GAL

GAL
   The Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberation (Antiterrorist Liberation Groups) were clandestine right-wing hit squads formed in the early 1980s, with the alleged connivance of government ministers, and involving senior figures in the police, in an attempt to strike at key members of the command structure of the Basque organization ETA. GAL is believed to have been implicated in twenty-three murders of persons associated with ETA between 1983 and 1986. Though undercover execution squads existed during the UCD government, the creation and funding of GAL as such was the work of forces closely identified with the PSOE administration which assumed power in 1982. The existence of the organization came to light when a Basque businessman (who happened to be a French citizen), Segundo Marey, was kidnapped in mistake for an ETA activist. A statement released by his captors claimed responsibility for the incident on behalf of a hitherto unknown entity, Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberation. In April 1987, during the trial in Lisbon of Portuguese nationals who had been involved in attacks on suspected ETA members, the accused claimed that they had been contracted by a Spanish police superinten-dent, José Amedo. Investigations carried out in December showed that between 1985 and 1987 Amedo had spent 27m pesetas for which he could not satisfactorily account. Together with a colleague, Michel Domínguez, he was arrested in 1988, and the two officers were charged with the murder of Juan Carlos García Goena, who had been assassinated in Hendaye in July 1986.
   Though Amedo denied the charge, some of the evidence given in the case was compelling. For example, staff from a hotel in San Sebastián testified that Amedo had been seen there several times in the company of people later identified as GAL mercenaries, at dates which coincided closely with the attacks. An alibi claim by Amedo was demolished when documentary evidence showed that he was in Irún under a false identity at the time of the murder of Goena. On the other hand, witnesses contradicted each other, and handwriting experts could not agree. The prosecution recognized that the evidence was largely circumstantial, and Amedo and Domínguez were acquitted of the murder charge. They were, however, convicted of the attempted murder of six people wounded in a machine-gun attack on two bars in St Jean de Luz frequented by ETA members, and sentenced to seventeen years on each charge, a total of 108 years. It was clear by then, however, that the case had much wider ramifications. A number of questions remained unanswered, particularly regarding the ultimate responsibility for the foundation and organization of GAL, and the source of the funds controlled by Amedo. Witnesses were evasive under questioning, especially when asked about secret funds available to the security services (the fondos reservados which were to become an important element in the affair). The Prime Minister of the day, Felipe González, was forced to provide a written statement to the court, denying that he had known about the activities of GAL, or that he had discussed them with the French authorities. The case refused to go away. Amedo's name surfaced again in another trial in May 1993, when a person accused of the murder of the Herri Batasuna leader Santiago Brouard, claimed that Amedo had been present when this murder was planned. There was consequently great surprise in legal circles, and among the public at large, when the authorities announced in May 1994 that Amedo and Domínguez would benefit from the so-called "third degree" prison regime, normally applied only to those who are deemed to have served three-quarters of their sentence. This would allow them freedom during the day and at weekends. For reasons which, it subsequently appeared, were far from disinterested, the proposal was supported by the former Interior Minister, José Barrionuevo, and by the ex-Director of Security, Julián Sancristóbal, both of whom were later the subject of judicial investigation by the judge Baltasar Garzón. Garzón's tenacity in following up the GAL affair has unearthed a complex network of intrigue, corruption and political manoeuvering. As a result of statements taken from Amedo and Domínguez in December 1994, three of their superiors were imprisoned pending further enquiries. In parallel with the judicial investigation, Amedo and Domínguez began giving interviews to the newspaper El Mundo, in the course of which it was alleged that Rafael Vera, the former Secretary of State for Security in the Interior Ministry, had offered them sums up to 100m pesetas each in return for their silence, and that these had been paid into a Swiss bank account in 1991, with the knowledge of the then Minister, José Luis Corcuera. By January 1995, Garzón had established that two numbered accounts in Switzerland, in the names of the respective wives of Amedo and Domínguez, contained funds in excess of this amount. Vera and his secretary, Juan de Justo, were arrested on charges of misuse of state funds, being an accessory to crime, and forgery.
   Garzón's zeal in pursuing the case earned him, not surprisingly, the hostility of much of the political class, especially senior members of the ruling PSOE. In addition, he was the victim of a press campaign, notably by the right-wing ABC, which in February 1995 alleged that the secret funds controlled by the Interior Ministry had paid for a holiday taken by Garzón in Santo Domingo. Garzón was, however, able to disprove this, and his impartiality was defended by the Council of the Judiciary. Public interest in the affair, already high, was raised to a new emotional pitch when concrete evidence of the fate of some of GAL's victims emerged dramatically in the same month. In 1985, the bodies of two men shot through the head and buried in quicklime had been discovered in the Alicante area. It was assumed at the time that they were the victims of a mafioso killing, and the investigating magistrate had closed the case for lack of evidence and ordered their burial. The pathologist who had examined the bodies, however, was not satisfied with this explanation, and took it on himself to preserve them in the morgue. Information which Amedo provided in the course of Garzón's investigation enabled the pathologist to identify the bodies as those of José Antonio Lasa and José Ignacio Zabala, members of ETA, who had disappeared in 1983, and, as subsequently emerged, had been tortured and killed, probably around January 1984, in the Intxaurrondo Civil Guard barracks (San Sebastián). The commander of this barracks at the time, Enrique Rodríguez Galindo, whose anti-ETA activities would later earn him the highest number of decorations awarded to any military officer, and who was ultimately promoted to General, was eventually arrested and charged on 23 May 1996. A month after the discovery of the bodies, in April 1995, Garzón formally indicted Rafael Vera and others, including a member of the Basque branch of PSOE, García Damborenea; the former Civil Governor of Vizcaya, Julián Sancristóbal; the chief of police in Bilbao, Francisco Alvarez; and the head of intelligence in Bilbao, Miguel Planchuelo. In the indictment, they were described as the founders of GAL. Vera was released in July on bail of 200m pesetas, paid by PSOE. At the same time, however, Planchuelo confirmed the testimony given by Amedo and Domínguez, and accused the former Interior Minister Barrionuevo of being in ultimate control of GAL. Damborenea admitted his involvement in the Marey kidnapping, but alleged that Felipe González had approved of the use of illegal methods for dealing with ETA.
   At the end of July 1995, Garzón notified the Supreme Court that there was prima facie evidence of the involvement in GAL of González, Barrionuevo, former Deputy Prime Minister Narcís Serra and the leader of the Basque socialists, Txiki Benegas. The Congress of Deputies agreed to lift Barrionuevo's parliamentary immunity so that his case could be investigated by the Supreme Court, and in the event only he was proceeded against. On 12 January 1996, he was indicted on charges of complicity in the kidnapping of Marey, and, twelve days later, for involvement in the establishment of GAL and misuse of public funds. By then, a further bizarre twist had been given to the affair. In September 1995, it was reported that the disgraced banker, Mario Conde, who was being prosecuted for fraud in connection with the collapse of the Banesto bank, had for some months been threatening to publish sensitive information, potentially damaging to the government. He had apparently obtained copies of documents belonging to the State Security Services (CESID), illegally removed by a former Security Service officer, Colonel Perote, and claimed that they contained what came to be referred to as the "founding document" of GAL. The government at first refused to declassify the "CESID papers", as they were called, but at the end of January 1997, the Supreme Court demanded that they be handed over. In March, they were examined by the court, and deemed to be harmless to state security. Any possible dramatic effect consequent on their release was diminished by the fact that they had already been made public in El País and El Mundo. Though they appeared to confirm that the planning of illegal actions was carried out jointly by CESID and the Civil Guard, there was no mention of GAL by name, and in any case the papers presented to the court were copies of copies, and therefore not wholly conclusive as evidence. Felipe González was, however, definitively cleared of any involvement.
   It is difficult to overestimate the influence of this "dirty war" episode on the political atmosphere of Spain since the late 1980s. The complex interaction of corruption, arbitrary action, personal vendetta and cover-up has raised serious questions about how far the rule of law has really taken root in Spain since the ending of the Franco dictatorship. The efforts of conscientious judges to ensure that the servants of the state are not immune from the law have been obstructed by powerful interests in financial and political circles. Furthermore, the absence of a sound tradition of jurisprudence in cases of this nature makes it difficult to determine where the line is to be drawn between preventing arbitrary and illegal action, and allowing some discretion to the state in dealing with the problem of terrorism. It has also meant that some members of the judiciary, notably Garzón, lay themselves open to the accusation of acting beyond their remit, or pursuing personal ambition. A further problem which needs to be resolved is the freedom which the media enjoy to comment on cases while they are still before the courts, which creates what has been called "parallel trials". The entire episode, indeed, offers a classic illustration of how changes in political culture, dependent as they are on personnel and attitudes, lag behind the structural transformations effected during the post-Franco transition to democracy.
   See also: corruption; legal system; politics
   EAMONN RODGERS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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