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Law and acts of vengeance

The conviction of four civil guards for torturing ETA suspects strengthens the anti-terrorist struggle

The recent conviction of two civil guards for torture carried out on a pair of ETA terrorists is a victory for the democratic state, and reinforces Spain's moral authority in the struggle against terrorism. Coinciding with the fourth anniversary of the bomb blast that destroyed part of the parking structure adjacent to the T-4 airport terminal in Madrid, the provincial High Court of Guipúzcoa in the Basque Country has concluded that the two perpetrators of that attack (which killed two people), Igor Portu and Martín Sarasola, were subjected to mistreatment just after their arrest, for reasons of mere vengeance (a month earlier an ETA cell had killed two civil guards in Cap Breton).

The devastating attack on the T-4 terminal - apart from taking the lives of two Ecuadorian immigrants who were sleeping in their cars, and did not hear the call to evacuate - was a bitter and unexpected blow, which put an end to the peace process that had been initiated between the government and the terrorist organization.

Within a fairly short time, the well-lubricated anti-terrorist machinery of the Spanish state succeeded in arresting the perpetrators of the attack and placing them at the disposal of the courts. However, as was suspected at the time and has now been proved, in the intervening process there was a manifest and intolerable breach of the law. In the hours between the arrest of the suspects and their official delivery to the prison, four civil guards took the opportunity to teach the terrorists a lesson.

The hospitalization of Portu, who suffered serious injuries, and the testimony of a witness, make it clear that on this occasion the complaints of both ETA terrorists reflected genuine facts. These facts should not have been treated in such a dismissive manner by the then-interior minister, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who alleged that the prisoners' injuries were in all probability the result of actions of "holding and control" against two criminals who were resisting arrest.

The torture inflicted on Portu and Sarasola caused a sharp confrontation between the Basque political parties and the government in Madrid, and lent credibility to the role of victim as played by the more radical sectors of the Basque separatist movement.

The judicial investigation into the details of these arrests, and the conviction of the civil guards involved in them, confirms the respect for due process and the suspects' civil rights in the Spanish legal system, and the credibility of the law in our country. The ruling enhances the moral superiority of democracy and the strength of the law, over the regime of terror that seeks to impose its will by bombs and extortion.

It shows that the law is enforced with rigor even on behalf of terrorists, and neutralizes ETA's propaganda strategy of invariably complaining about torture after the arrest. The verdict makes it clear that torture is an absolute exception, and that the terrorists are lying when they claim otherwise.