By Geraldine Sealey
Published March 17, 2004 10:18PM (EST)

So conservatives in the U.S. are misleading the American people about an election in Spain decided because the Spanish people were angry about being misled. That's pretty confusing, but the charade continued today as Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert got into the act, calling Spain "a nation who succumbed ... to threats of terrorism, changed their government."

The Progress Report has a comprehensive takedown of this sham argument, but here's one Washington Post article that shows how the Spanish election -- tight even before the bombings last week -- actually turned on the fact that the Aznar government tried to pin the blame on the Basque separatist group ETA despite evidence that Islamic extremists were involved. The Spanish people strongly disagreed with Aznar's support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and there is widespread suspicion in Spain that the government steered blame to ETA to avoid being punished at the polls for potentially bringing a terrorist attack on Spain for its cooperation with Bush and Tony Blair. That strategy clearly backfired.

From the Post: "Government officials insist that they never misled the public, and that they released in a timely manner all the information and evidence they had gathered. 'We told the truth at all times to the Spanish people,' Acebes said on Monday. In retrospect, however, there were signs that the government was at least selective in releasing information about possible culprits ... Immediately after Thursday's bombings, Foreign Minister Ana Palacio telephoned her British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, to say that it was ETA, according to a British official, who added, 'We had no independent evidence of our own that the Spanish were wrong.' Less than two hours later, Straw was on television saying, 'It looks to be an ETA terrorist outrage, and that is the information we've received from Madrid.' At the same time, the Spanish Foreign Ministry was sending instructions to its embassies, saying diplomats 'should use any opportunity to confirm ETA's responsibility for these brutal attacks,' according to a copy of the letter published in the Spanish daily El Pais. Spanish officials have confirmed that the instructions went out, but said they were only for 'guidance.'"

"Managing the coverage of the disaster became a priority for the government, which contacted both the Spanish and international news media, stressing the official line that the bombings were the work of ETA. El Pais, which was preparing a special edition on the attacks, received several calls directly from Aznar, its reporters confirmed. The editor of the Catalan-based paper El Periodico said Aznar called twice. Aznar 'courteously cautioned me not to be mistaken. ETA was responsible,' the editor, Antonio Franco, wrote in an editorial Tuesday. At a news conference on Friday, Aznar said he had called several newspapers, saying he wanted to explain the government's view."

"On Saturday night -- hours before the polls opened -- the government announced the arrests of three Moroccans and two Indians, and the discovery of a videotape from a purported al Qaeda official asserting responsibility for the attacks. Thousands of Spaniards responded by taking to the streets, banging pots and pans in protests and denouncing the government. That voter anger swept the Socialists back to power for the first time in eight years."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

MORE FROM Geraldine Sealey

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room