Exercising good judgment, the Spanish High Court has sentenced two police officers to light jail terms for warning an ETA extortion ring of imminent arrests, deeming the tip-off to be a crime of revealing information. The court also ruled that the purpose of this action did not constitute an act of collaboration with a terrorist organization. Rather, it reached the conclusion that the intention behind the tip-off was to avoid hindering the process of bringing about an end to terrorism. No complex trial is without its obscure aspects, as is the case with the tip-off given in the Faisán de Behobia bar in Irún. But it would have been absurd to elevate the significance of this incident to the level of an act of complicity with a terrorist group.
There are some who have seen contradictions in a ruling that says that the police tip-off was not aimed at favoring ETA despite finding the police officers involved to be the authors of the warning; and also with the fact that the magistrates did not enter into the issue of whether the author of the tip-off, Basque police chief Enrique Pamiés, was acting alone or complying with the orders of his superiors. The Supreme Court will have the last word if appeals are lodged against the ruling, although the public prosecutor has already said it will accept the sentence.
Beyond the details of the case, what happened in 2006 shows to what extent the fight against terrorism was not pursued as a matter of state. Those who came out against holding talks with the terrorist group as an act of "betrayal" to the victims of ETA latched onto the incident as a pretext to step up the political and media brouhaha they had mounted against the former Socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. This has to be taken into account when weighing up the implicit consequences of the High Court's ruling, which has to be looked at in the cold light of day, considering what was in play and what the outcome of the trial entailed.
In this respect, it is a known fact that negotiations with ETA aimed at putting an end to terrorism were at a critical stage when the tip-off caused the planned police raid of the extortion ring to be aborted. But the fact that the intended arrests were not carried out at that moment did not have any consequences, given that the members of the gang were detained without incident 50 days later. The period in which the truce called by ETA was in place also did not imply a stay in the security forces' initiatives against the terrorists, as witnessed by the efficient pursuit of ETA when the negotiations broke down and the group renewed its attacks. The same police and the same government, which some have accused of being collaborators with terrorism, were in place when ETA announced its definitive abandonment of the use of violence in the fall of 2011.
The question begs itself whether the refusal of certain parties to start afresh stems from the sincere respect they hold for the memory of those who fell victim to ETA, or rather reflects an act of self-interested political expediency. The longer doubts were left in the air, the more opportunities were available to continue to attack the Socialist government, whose interior minister at the time, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, is the current leader of the main opposition party. The task now of getting ETA to disarm is more important than trying to perpetuate doubts about past intentions and responsibilities.