Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Dirty War, Clean Hands

Dirty War, Clean Hands

Paddy Woodworth
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 512
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vm3xz
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Dirty War, Clean Hands
    Book Description:

    Spain's transition from the Franco dictatorship to a democratic state has been widely regarded as exemplary. However, this powerfully written book reveals that as Spain's first post-transition government attempted to destroy the Basque separatist group ETA, it adopted the very policies of indiscriminate terror that had characterized Franco's authoritarian regime and ETA's own strategy. Furthermore, the anti-terrorist liberation group GAL was organized and secretly funded by the government. For this paperback edition the text has been revised and thoroughly updated."A balanced, finely documented tale of how easily democratic institutions can run off the rails."-Rod Usher,Time Magazine"A complex and disturbing story magisterially deconstructed and retold . . . One of the most important books about post-Franco Spain ever published."-Paul Preston,Irish Times"[Woodworth's] writing has edge as well as elegance . . . [A] scholarly and superbly told story . . . all the hallmarks of a classic."-Eoghan Harris,Sunday Times"A brilliant piece of investigative journalism that deserves to be read … Having mastered the labyrinth of evidence and conflicting conspiracy theories [Woodworth] takes us on a thrilling and sometimes gruesome narrative journey."-Sebastian Balfour,Times Literary Supplement

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17718-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Paddy Woodworth
  5. Map of GAL Attacks in Basque Country
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. Prologue: the view from a Basque balcony
    (pp. 1-14)

    This is a political story, but it has personal roots. Since its subject, political violence, is bitterly contentious, it may be helpful to try to expose those roots at this stage, so that the reader will have some idea where this writer is coming from.

    As far as I can tell, the roots of this book began to grow in a taxi in Barcelona in 1995, when I heard on the radio how the broken, tortured bones of two young Basque radicals had been identified in Alicante. They had been unearthed from a quicklime grave ten years earlier, and had...

  7. Part 1: An Ancient People, A Modern Conflict

    • 1 ‘Only 5,000 Years Ago’: a country where the past is always present
      (pp. 17-32)

      The small resorts of the Côte Basque are best known abroad as the epitome of the chic tourism of another era. The names of Biarritz and Bayonne evoke images of exquisite maritime cuisine, elegant promenades overlooking the Bay of Biscay, discreet casinos and intimate hotels. Some parts of these towns still exude the faded, padded comforts of sedate bourgeois holidays.

      The area had its tourist heyday from the late nineteenth century until the 1950s, but in recent years the discerning rich have returned to the region in small numbers, and the middle classes of France and Europe fill the campsites...

    • 2 Boys Become Giant-Killers: the making of ETA
      (pp. 33-43)

      From one perspective, the whole story starts like this: José Pardines, a youngguardia civil,was checking cars near Villabona, between San Sebastián and Tolosa. Something, perhaps the false number plate on their car, drew his attention to Francisco Javier Etxebarrieta (Txabi), a leading member of ETA aged twenty-three, and Iñaki Sarasqueta, a nineteen-year-old provincial leader. Both were armed. They stopped as Pardines indicated, and while theguardia civilwas examining the car, Etxebarrieta drew his pistol and shot him several times. ETA had claimed its first victim.

      Etxebarrieta and Sarasqueta went on the run, but they were stopped by...

    • 3 The First Dirty War: Warriors of Christ the King and the Basque Spanish Battalion
      (pp. 44-60)

      Instead of lying down, Emile Muley stood up. To this day, he does not know whether this instinctive reaction saved his life and those of his wife and two children. They were enjoying a Sunday evening drink in the Bar Hendayais, a few hundred yards on the French side of the Spanish border, when he saw two men approach the door and thought he heard a firework go off outside.

      The Hendayais is a small bar, and was smaller in November 1980 than it is now. ‘There were about forty people inside,’ says Muley, ‘it was packed. My brother-in-law, a...

  8. Part II: A Dirty War Run By Democrats

    • 4 Clean Hands in Government: provocation, response and the French connection
      (pp. 63-70)

      Spanish democracy swung vertiginously from terror to celebration between the beginning of 1981 and the end of 1982. Since the start of the transition, the threat of a military coup had shadowed Spanish politics. Each dramatic advance – the legalisation of the Communist Party, the negotiation of the Constitution, the establishment of autonomous governments in Catalonia and the Basque Country – was made to the sound of sabres rattling offstage.

      The savage escalation of ETA’s campaign over this period inevitably exacerbated extremism within the armed forces and the police. Rank-and-file members of the security forces suffered appalling losses in 1980. ETA killed...

    • 5 Fear Crosses the Border: two disappearances and a kidnapping
      (pp. 71-86)

      ‘There was a sense that something was going to happen,’ Izaskun Rekalde says, recalling the autumn of 1983 among the radical Basque community in France.

      Rekalde has lived in that community for more than twenty years, and is an influential figure within it. She was one of a handful of Spanish citizens who enjoyed official ‘refugee status’ in France.¹ A tall, striking woman with big, sad eyes, she looks like an icon of the dedicated revolutionary whose exile has gone on too long. Her account of the advent of the GAL is suffused with a restrained nostalgia for a once-vibrant...

    • 6 Under Siege in the Sanctuary: decapitating ETA
      (pp. 87-100)

      There are many entirely innocent reasons to cross the border from the south into the French Basque Country. In a culture so dominated by gastronomy, shopping for food is one of them. Pâté, cheese and cakes are all reckoned to be better, cheaper, or both, north of the Bidasoa.

      In the winter of 1983, shoppers sometimes found that they were less welcome than previously. Small groups of refugees would stop strangers on the streets and demand to know their identities and their business. Arabs, in particular, came in for close scrutiny. The word was out that the GAL, like their...

    • 7 ETA Between Two Fires: the dirty war and the diplomatic offensive
      (pp. 101-115)

      The killing of Ramón Oñederra (Kattu), says Izaskun Rekalde, made it clear what the GAL could do, while the killing of Mikel Goikoetxea (Txapela) made it clear that the refugees faced a new and sustained assault on their own doorsteps. But she insists that the uppermost anxiety in the minds of the refugees was not assassination, but extradition.¹ This anxiety was heightened by a diplomatic offensive by Madrid, aimed at persuading Paris to treat the Basque radicals as criminal suspects rather than as political refugees. One of the distinguishing features of the GAL campaign, compared to the earlier dirty war,...

    • 8 Bombing Biarritz: keeping ETA under pressure
      (pp. 116-123)

      Naked but for his torn underpants, T-shirt, shoes and socks, a man is standing in a pleasant street in bright sunshine. He is looking back towards the camera, with an expression that is very hard to read, but seems to convey puzzlement or anxiety. For a moment, it is very difficult to grasp what is happening in this photograph, published inTiempomagazine in September 1984.¹ Then recognition dawns, as if in slow motion, because of the ghastly contrast between the setting and the action. The man has torn his clothes off because they are on fire, but the flames...

    • 9 A Revolutionary Doctor: his eventful life and sudden death
      (pp. 124-138)

      The death squads, or the people who ran them, had a liking for anniversaries. José Miguel Beñarán Ordeñaná was killed on the fifth anniversary, almost to the day, of the assassination of Carrero Blanco. The GAL’s first acknowledged mortal victim, Ramón Oñederra, was shot within hours of Carrero Blanco’s tenth anniversary. Eleven months later, on the ninth anniversary of Franco’s death in bed, the GAL stunned public opinion with their first, and only, major operation on the Spanish side of the border. Felipe González himself described this action as ‘a new attempt to seriously endanger peaceful co-existence in the Basque...

    • 10 A Black Lady Stalks the Bars: the GAL get trigger-happy
      (pp. 139-155)

      Blowing things up, literally as well as metaphorically, became the GAL’s stock-in-trade for a brief period in late 1984 and early 1985. José Ramón López de Abetxuko, who had been named in the Spanish media as the leader of ETA’s defence squads against the GAL, had a narrow escape in early December. A friend working on his car in Hendaye noticed a clothes peg attached to the front wheel. As he took cover, a booby trap exploded, injuring him slightly. Witnesses said they had seen a small, blonde woman, dressed in black, in the vicinity of the car, so this...

    • 11 Massacre at the Monbar
      (pp. 156-160)

      The Hotel Monbar is a small, neat establishment, with red exterior beams and shutters contrasting cheerfully with its white frontage. It stands about halfway up from the river on the Rue Pannecau in Petit Bayonne. The ground-floor café-bar opens directly onto the street.

      The narrow entrance is made narrower still by the semicircular bar on one wall. It barely leaves space for newcomers to pass those already seated, and reach the half-dozen small tables beyond. Seen from a normal perspective, it is a pleasantly intimate arrangement. From another point of view, the room has the classic structure of a trap....

    • 12 Shooting Women and Children Too: the GAL make their exit in a blaze of shame
      (pp. 161-169)

      If Barrionuevo conceived of the war against terrorism in purely mathematical terms, September 1985wasa bad month for ETA. The terrorists lost one militant when his own bomb exploded, and another four at the Monbar. They claimed only two victims themselves: a US citizen unlucky enough to jog past a bomb intended forguardias civilesin Madrid; and a national policeman in Vitoria.

      But the war against terrorism in a democracy is not a football match, and September 1985 cannot be represented by a score of 5–2 to the enemies of ETA. Not only had the GAL become...

    • 13 The GAL’s War is Over: but one more victim falls
      (pp. 170-174)

      Juan Carlos García Goena had no reason to fear the GAL when he walked to his car in Hendaye at 5.20 a. m. on the morning of 24 July 1987. He was a Basque refugee, but he had never been a member of ETA. In fact, he was a pacifist, a fugitive from Spanish military justice for refusing to do his military service.¹

      Besides, the GAL had not operated since the killings in Bidarray, seventeen months earlier, despite ETA’s increasingly bloody and indiscriminate campaign in Spain in that period. Even when ETA killed twenty-one shoppers and seriously injured about thirty...

  9. Part III: Placing Blame:: Investigating the Investigators

    • 14 Grounds for Suspicion: absence of proof
      (pp. 177-199)

      Everything was suspected, much was known, nothing was proved. That is the paradox at the heart of early attempts to unmask the people who hid behind the mysterious acronym of the GAL. To understand this complex unmasking process, and what it reveals about Spanish democracy, we need to retrace and review the events of the GAL’s dirty war from the perspective of those who were trying to investigate it.

      From the moment Lasa and Zabala went missing, many observers were certain that elements within the Spanish security forces were running this new dirty war. Some believed that the Ministry of...

    • 15 Protecting Señor X: the systematic obstruction of justice
      (pp. 200-229)

      The news story on the GAL tilted away from the Guardia Civil and their charismatic colonel in 1987, and did not come back to them in earnest for a long time. This was partly because noguardia civilwas ever caught red-handed in a GAL operation, and a number of mercenaries were. And the mercenaries, for the most part, seemed to have other masters than the Guardia Civil.

      The possibility that more than one element in the Spanish administration was involved in the GAL had been mooted at an early stage. Some people suggested, and still do, that the GAL...

    • 16 State Terrorism in the Dock: two cops take the rap
      (pp. 230-244)

      Judge Baltasar Garzón started 1989 with a very careful, very strongly worded argument, occasionally laced with irony, against the government’s case on reserved funds. He insisted that his investigation represented no threat to the security of the state, but conceded that it might be a threat to particular individuals who were supposed to serve the state. The argument was addressed to three senior magistrates in the Audiencia Nacional, without whose agreement he could not proceed with this line of investigation. He did not receive an answer until April.

      The government, wrote anEl Paíseditorialist in January 1989, ‘faces the...

    • 17 Recollections in Tranquillity: the scapegoats learn to sing
      (pp. 245-258)

      ‘What’s happening?’ Rafael Vera is usually an unflappable man, but José Barrionuevo remembers getting a ‘rather agitated’ call from his former deputy, just before Christmas in 1994. ‘They’ve arrested Julián Sancristóbal,’ Vera continued, answering the easy part of his own question. ‘He’s been in Garzón’s chambers for several hours.’¹

      Within a day, four police officers, all members of Sancristóbal’s 1980s anti-terrorist elite, joined the former Director of State Security in jail, on the instructions of Judge Baltasar Garzón. Men who had grown used to sybaritic lifestyles saw their personal effects abruptly reduced to shaving foam, soap, toilet paper and two...

    • 18 A Cascade of Confessions: the sewers flood the salons
      (pp. 259-280)

      What made Amedo and Domínguez break their silence? They claimed that they ‘did not want to go down in history for covering up corruption’. They were ‘telling the truth in the interests of a greater stability of the rule of law’.¹ Such altruistic reflections were presumably stimulated by the refusal of the Justice and Interior Minister, Juan Alberto Belloch, to either pardon them or bankroll them. The final straw may have come in early December 1994, when it was announced that the salaries from their new jobs might be confiscated to compensate their victims.²

      But there were other forces at...

    • 19 Old Bones Tell Their Story: the ‘green GAL’ feel the heat
      (pp. 281-294)

      The GAL had become a spectre haunting Spain in 1995. The haunting took its most dramatic form in the bones of Lasa and Zabala. No other image from the dirty war so captured the horrified imagination of the Spanish public, and so poisoned the atmosphere of Spanish public life. No other GAL atrocity would offer, twelve years after it took place, such an explosive propaganda weapon to the supporters of ETA, the organisation to which Lasa and Zabala had belonged.

      Two young men had been kidnapped, tortured for days and possibly weeks, then murdered and buried in quicklime. From the...

    • 20 Who’s Cheating Who? bankers, spies and audiotapes
      (pp. 295-312)

      Who guards the guardians? The problems faced by those investigating crimes committed by state security forces are as old and intractable as Plato’s conundrum, but in a technologically advanced society they are infinitely more complex. In the hands of intelligence services, ‘information technology’ often serves strategies of disinformation.

      Microchips and mobile phones, like the camera before them, can transmit falsehood as easily as truth, and are easily susceptible to manipulation and distortion. Uncommon common sense was required to unscramble the signals when the GAL investigations became fixated on a series of documents stolen from Spanish military intelligence, and manipulated by...

    • 21 The Paper Chase: state secrecy v. the right to know
      (pp. 313-334)

      Readers ofEl Mundo,jaded though they were with sensational scandals, must have felt their own skin start to prickle when they saw this conversation reproduced in the newspaper on the morning of 27 May 1996.¹

      This mass readership was suddenly privy, apparently, to a secret discussion between a CESID commander, Juan Alberto Perote, and a Guardia Civil sergeant, Pedro Gómez Nieto. They seemed to be overhearing a first-hand account of the killing of Lasa and Zabala, followed by a convincingly confused attempt to rationalise the terrible thing that had been done:

      GÓMEZ NIETO: Look, don Alberto, I often take...

    • 22 A Divided Democracy: shockwaves from the GAL scandal fracture Spanish institutions
      (pp. 335-355)

      ‘I have no experience of the informer’s trade.’¹ José Barrionuevo, former police minister turned criminal suspect, helped seal his own fate with these words on 9 June 1998. Many people have been betrayed by informers, but Barrionuevo was betrayed as much by his own use of the word as by the allegations of his renegade comrade, Ricardo Garcia Damborenea.

      Standing before eleven Supreme Court judges with his arms folded defensively, Barrionuevo knew he was fighting for what remained of his reputation, and looking at twenty-three years in prison if he lost. Yet he seemed oddly rattled and querulous for a...

    • 23 A Minister in the Dock: justice for Segundo Marey?
      (pp. 356-378)

      An insinuating hand grasped my elbow as I passed through the enormous green-and-gold double doors of the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court for the first time. I turned to find Jose Amedo grinning wolfishly, obviously in his element.

      ‘Enjoy yourself in there!’ he said in a stage whisper, and moved on. He was accused of kidnapping an innocent man and organising a death squad, but he was treating his trial as public entertainment.

      His greeting was characteristically cynical, but not entirely inappropriate. There is, of course, something highly theatrical about all courtrooms and all trials, though the ritual element...

    • 24 Judgement and Response: Barrionuevo in jail, Socialists in denial
      (pp. 379-404)

      It was high summer; most of Spain waited for the Marey verdict in the dead heat of late July. Speculation was rife, and various. Would the magistrates find Barrionuevo and Vera guilty, despite the lack of material evidence to corroborate the testimony of the other ten defendants? Could they find them innocent, given the ‘coherence’ of that testimony, and the strong circumstantial evidence that the Socialists had decided to embark on a dirty war in the autumn of 1983?

      If they found them guilty, would the judges take what was seen as the easiest route, and rule that the statute...

  10. Part IV: Conclusions:: Cleaning Up After A Dirty War

    • 25 Waking from the Nightmare: what the GAL tells us about Spanish democracy
      (pp. 407-419)

      The GAL phenomenon achieved what ETA sought but could not accomplish alone: it inserted a corrosive question mark into the widely accepted success story of the Spanish transition to democracy. This is especially true if we consider the GAL not just as the organisation which carried out a dirty war against ETA in the mid-1980s, but as the persistent obstruction, by the Socialist Party leadership, of every investigation into that dirty war ever since. This obstruction has been repeatedly accompanied by a tendency, sometimes almost subliminal and sometimes blatant, to justify the kind of state terrorism which the Socialists denied...

    • Epilogue: less than the whole truth
      (pp. 420-432)

      We left the narrative of the GAL with Felipe González outside the gates of Guadalajara prison, and José Barrionuevo and Rafael Vera inside, on 10 September 1998. This remains the moment when the investigation into the dirty war under the Socialists reached its climax, but the story did not end there, nor has it ended in August 2002, as this edition of this book goes to press.

      The ‘Circus of Guadalajara’, as the weekly PSOE pilgrimage to the prison was christened by its critics, continued through the autumn and early winter of 1998. The PSOE leadership, including those who claimed...

  11. Chronology of GAL Attacks
    (pp. 433-436)
  12. Chronology of GAL Investigations Segundo Marey, Batxoki/Consolation and Lasa/Zabala investigations
    (pp. 437-443)
  13. Some Notes on the Spanish Constitution, Judiciary and Legal System
    (pp. 444-448)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 449-457)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 458-461)
  16. Index
    (pp. 462-475)