Spain Regime Faces Charge It Sanctioned ‘Dirty War’

Times Staff Writer

Jose Amedo was a well-dressed, high-living traveler with a weakness for casinos and a liking for fish, but as a secret agent he proved fatally flawed.

Calling himself Genaro Gallego, he hosted a 1986 dinner at O Pescador, a restaurant near Lisbon, paying the $86.25 bill with a credit card in his real name. Investigators quickly discovered that Gallego was Amedo and that Amedo was deputy superintendent of a police intelligence unit in Bilbao, Spain.

Amedo, 42, is now in jail. An investigating magistrate charges that he hired Portuguese gunmen to murder suspected Basque terrorists in France. More, Amedo traveled and conspired on secret funds of the Spanish government, Magistrate Baltazar Garzon asserts.

Garzon’s attempt to unravel a politically charged tangle of intrigue and violence pits the Spanish judiciary against the executive branch in a melee that is troubling both for the socialist government of Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and for Spanish society at large. Just when Spain seemed to have laid to rest its fascist past, a young democracy must consider the possibility that a secret “dirty war” was mounted with official sanction to combat suspected terrorists.


“This is clearly a case of state terrorism. The question is what institutions are involved, and at what level,” said Fernando Salas, a Madrid lawyer representing 104 private Spanish citizens who have joined the case as friends of the court.

With his case at a critical point, Magistrate Garzon is more circumspect. Last week he asked a superior court to compel the Interior (Police) Ministry to disclose the source of funds Amedo used to swell his bank account, to cover his gambling debts and to pay gunmen who shot at least six people in Bayonne, France, in 1986.

Treading gently in what he decribes as a “thorny, delicate and complex issue,” Garzon insists that it is essential to establish if there was a “fraudulent deviation” of public funds to underwrite a secret anti-terrorism plan. He wants to know who authorized Amedo’s travels, and who signed his expense accounts.

The ministry says scrutiny of its reserved funds is precluded by national security laws. Garzon suggests that personal security of ministry officials is more at stake than national security.

“It is ridiculous to suppose that Amedo acted alone. Absurd,” said Salas in a recent interview.

The Gonzalez government has shown little disposition to aid the judge’s quest. Jose Barrionuevo, interior minister when Amedo and Bilbao Police Inspector Michel Dominguez were arrested, at one point ordered ministry officials not to answer the magistrate’s questions. Barrionuevo became minister of transport in a subsequent Cabinet shake-up.

Sought to Meet Informant

Last April, National Police Chief Jose Maria Rodriguez acknowledged that Amedo’s visit to Lisbon as Gallego in February, 1986, had come on official business and at government expense. But, Rodriguez insisted, Amedo made the trip only to meet an informant in an arms case.

There is compelling testimony, however, that Amedo embarked on a free-spending recruiting mission for the so-called Grupos Anti-Terroristas de Liberacion, universally known here by its Spanish acronym as GAL.

Between December, 1983, and February, 1986, when a Portuguese gunman who said he was hired by Amedo was arrested by French police, GAL waged a private war against ETA, the Basque terrorist group that Gonzalez has called ‘the last threat to Spanish democracy.’

Twenty-seven people died in GAL kidnapings, bombings and murders, most of them in the Basque region of southwestern France, where ETA members have maintained bases safe from official Spanish pursuit.

French sympathy for ETA was considerable when it opposed Gen. Francisco Franco. The support began to erode when ETA violence continued against the democratic government that came to power after Franco’s death in 1975, but until 1982, France did not extradite ETA members.

600 Killed Since 1968

ETA, the initials for Basque Homeland and Freedom in the Basque language, seeks independence for three provinces in northern Spain. Since the separatists turned to violence in 1968, ETA terror has killed about 600 people, 19 of them last year.

ETA supports itself with proceeds from kidnapings and robberies. Garzon believes that GAL’s financing, by contrast, came from the public till.

With its militants now actively sought by both Spain and France, ETA is hurting. Two weeks ago, its top leader, Jose Antonio Urutigoechea, 38, was arrested by French police as he rode a motorcycle on a towpath along the River Nive in southwestern France. Spain is now seeking extradition of the man described by one Madrid newspaper as “ETA’s staunchest, longest-active leader.”

GAL, whose marauding began in 1983 not long after Gonzalez’ government took power, was not the first shadowy group to match ETA terror with counterterror. A late 1970s predecessor called the Spanish Basque Battalion also seemed to French magistrates and detectives to have been organized and financed by the Spanish secret services, according to Spanish reporter Javier Garcia in a new book profiling the GAL.

Documents submitted to Spanish courts by magistrate Garzon show that Amedo left a broad paper trail after recruiting three Portuguese gunmen and promising them 5 million escudos (about $33,000) for every ETA militant killed.

Target Practice

Amedo and Dominguez traveled with the gunmen to Spain, pausing at casinos en route to lose more than their salaries. They armed the Portuguese and joined them in target practice, the allegations say.

In early February, 1986, the gunmen went by train to Bayonne, where they shot and wounded five Basques in a bar. Amedo and Dominguez were waiting for them when they returned to Spain and sent them back for a second attack on Feb. 13, when they severely wounded a well-known ETA militant, the court record shows. The conspiracy began to unravel when French police arrested one of the gunmen as he attempted to return to Spain.

The GAL case is a new blow to a Spanish police force that has had difficulty adjusting to democratic constraints after decades as a key agent of dictatorship.

Jailed for Torture-Murder

In one case, a judge is investigating supposed police spying against opposition political parties. In another, three detectives were sentenced to 29 years in prison last fall--four others were acquitted--for the 1983 torture-murder at police headquarters of a hoodlum known as El Nani, who had inexplicably been held under anti-terrorist legislation.

It is the GAL saga, though, that is particularly worrying Spanish democrats just now.

“Who formed the GAL? Who else is involved?” asked Madrid lawyer Salas in echoing questions asked by the Spanish press.

The investigating magistrate is posing those same questions in an indirect way. It is not clear, though, that even the full weight of the judiciary behind Garzon will be sufficient to force police officials to respond.

“We are at the moment of truth,” Salas declared. “If the government is allowed to ignore the magistrate’s questions, it would be an ominous portent both for the rule of law and the future of democracy in Spain.”