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buber.net > Basque > Features > Books > Book Review: Dirty War, Clean Hands by Paddy Woodworth
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Book Review: Dirty War, Clean Hands by Paddy Woodworth

by Blas Pedro Uberuaga

June 28, 2003

Read: December, 2001 to January, 2002.

Paddy Woodworth is an investigative reporter from Ireland who has spent significant time in the Basque Country, not only as a reporter, but also as an observer, a person who has actually lived there for a long time as a regular person. In this book, he discusses in great depth the case of the GAL in Spain. The book is seperated into parts. The first part is basically an introduction to the Basques and the modern political situation. Then, Woodworth discusses the history of the GAL and its attacks. Next comes a history of the uncovering of the GAL and of the finding of evidence that connected the GAL to the Spanish government. He then summarizes the current state of things, a situation that has yet to be completely resolved.

The GAL was one of Spain's answers to ETA, an attempt to fight ETA in its French save haven with ETA's own tactics: assassinations, kidnappings and bombings. This was at a time when it seemed the French government wasn't helping Spain very much in its fight against ETA.

The GAL killed many people during its existence, something on the order of 30. They wounded many more. They always seemed to have some special connections to at least some segment of the Spanish government, passing easily back to Spain after attacks, being found with phone numbers of Spanish officials and so forth. But nothing was really ever known about them during their existence.

During this time, two Basque men were kidnapped and never heard from again. Their bones were later found in a lime pit in Spain, though it wasn't for many years that their remains were identified. It was at this point that the deep connections between GAL and the Spanish government of Felipe Gonzalez were uncovered.

Woodworth describes all of the attacks by the GAL in detail, given more life with interviews of the survivors and family of victims of the attacks. He describes how many of the victims had nothing to do with ETA and it seems that it was the killing of an innocent shepherd and his niece that finally put a stop to the GAL. The tactics they used were no different than any other terrorist group.

Woodworth then goes into the investigation that uncovered the GAL and all of its dark underside. He describes the efforts of Baltazar Garzon, the investigating judge, through whose persistance the case proceeded and eventually led to the implication of several high level Spanish officials, including cabinet members. Woodworth also goes into how the different political parties used this as fodder to attack each other, sometimes to absurd extremes.

Woodworth emphasizes an extraordinary fact about the GAL and the effort to bring those responsible to justice. The Spanish democracy at this time was young, and could easily have been thrown into a state of turmoil if it was found that its government participated in state terrorism. But, the government survived even the conviction of cabinet members. This is a test that not many democracies, including the US, have had to face.

He also points out how the GAL had the opposite effect of what it desired. Sure, it interrupted ETA operations to some degree, but it also showed a new generation of Basques that Spain had not changed so much, that the Spanish government would still kill its citizens without hesitation, that Franco's legacy still lived. This galvanized this new generation in its hatred of the Spanish system and cemented its commitment to continue ETA's fight against Spain.

This story of one state's attempt to use a terrorist group's action against them - to use state sponsored terrorism against its own people - is, I think, particullarly relevant now as what seems like half of the world is in the middle of a fight against terrorism. Spain and the GAL are a good example of how using the unlawful tactics of one's enemies against those same enemies, especially by a democratic nation that is supposed to protect the freedom and security of those same enemies, at least until they are proven guilty, can dramatically and terribly back fire. This is a dangerous road to follow, one that brings into question the very legitimacy of the democracy these governments are purporting to defend.

This was a very interesting book, one that really explored the issues, the entire history and development of the case against the GAL, in complete detail. This kind of in depth coverage would be most welcome about other issues that are occuring around the world, issues that would give us a lot more insight into the world around us and the people that govern the rest of us.

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