Murdered Basques return to haunt Gonzalez: Did Spain's PM know police assassinated Eta guerrillas in the 1980s? Phil Davison reports from Madrid

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The Independent Online
TWO WEEKS before Spain's general elections, it was the last thing that the Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, needed - though perhaps not the last thing he expected. What the press at the time billed 'Spain's Dirty War', a counter-terrorism campaign against Basque Eta guerrillas in the 1980s, has come back to unnerve, if not haunt, Mr Gonzalez at the worst of moments.

The question then, and repeated with more urgency now, is: did the Prime Minister order, or approve of, the creation of the Anti-terrorist Liberation Group (GAL) to solve what was at the time Spain's most pressing problem: Eta's indiscriminate terrorism campaign against the Spanish state?

After Eta's shooting and bombing campaign had reached its peak in the early 1980s, the guerrillas used to flee and live safely across the French border. Then they, and in some cases uninvolved Basques, began dying like flies at the hands of the mysterious GAL. Such had been the nature of Eta's killings that outrage at GAL activities was limited.

Few Spaniards believe the GAL was not run by Mr Gonzalez's Interior Ministry. The then minister, Jose Barrionuevo, ordered his staff to keep quiet on the case, citing 'reasons of state'. Many of Mr Gonzalez's supporters insist he would not have known what the ministry was doing. It is a perception that is proving increasingly difficult to sustain.

Two senior Spanish policemen, Superintendent Jose Amedo and Inspector Michel Dominguez, were jailed in 1991 for 108 years each for organising GAL attacks inside France. They were believed to have been working with the Spanish Interior Ministry's consent, if not on its orders, using 'fondos reservados' (reserved finances, a ministry slush fund). The story is treated by those in a position to know as a case of 'no comment'.

One former government employee, however, said yesterday: 'Do you really think a senior policemen would or could act without the knowledge or approval or funds of his superior, or that the latter could do the same without the knowledge of the minister or, in turn, that the minister would tackle the country's biggest problem without full consultation with the Prime Minister?'

And, if Mr Gonzalez was not aware of what was going on, why not? The Prime Minister has always avoided comment on the case, but noted that there is no evidence pointing to government involvement.

After the court case, the issue died down - until last month. On 21 April, one of the jailed officers, Dominguez, was spotted in the office of Spain's best-known judge, Baltasar Garzon. Mr Garzon investigated the GAL case - in which around 30 Basques were mysteriously assassinated, mostly just inside the French border - and ordered the two policemen detained in 1988. The case then left his hands. Mr Garzon at the time insisted the policemen had worked on the orders of a 'Mister X' and were probably financed by the Interior Ministry. He asked the ministry to reveal details of its funds but Mr Barrionuevo refused. His successor, the present Interior Minister, Jose Luis Corcuera, has taken the same stance.

Dominguez, it seems, had won a one-day parole by telling Mr Garzon he had more to reveal. According to press reports, he saw the judge in Madrid, revealed nothing new but asked when he was going to be pardoned 'as promised'. There are two interesting facts: first, Mr Garzon no longer had anything to do with the case, and second, six days after the meeting, he announced he would run on behalf of Mr Gonzalez's ruling Socialist Party in the 6 June elections.

It is known that Mr Garzon was first approached by Mr Gonzalez as a potential Socialist candidate in February. Friends of Dominguez say the judge, during his 21 April meeting with the prisoner, told him: 'I will soon be in a senior position.' Six days later, Mr Garzon was billed by the Socialists as their new 'breath of fresh air' and later as their number two parliamentary candidate for Madrid.

It then emerged that the other jailed police officer, Dominguez's boss, Amedo, had visited the government-appointed Prosecutor-General on or around the same date. Amedo was granted a 48-hour parole because his wife was ill. He, too, he told friends, had wanted to know: 'How is my pardon coming along?'

This week, the daily El Pais said Amedo had been accompanied on his visit to the Prosecutor-General by the man who was number two in the Interior Ministry during the GAL's activities, the then Director of State Security, Julian Sancristobal. Mr Sancristobal said Amedo had called him from prison and asked for his help for humanitarian reasons, because his wife was suffering from cancer.

In an editorial headlined 'Suspicious Meetings', the paper wrote: 'Neither Judge Garzon nor the Prosecutor-General has given a convincing explanation for the meetings . . . Such inexplicable meetings do nothing but add suspicion to suspicion.'