Eight civil guards called to court accused of torturing ETA suspects

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Methods said to have been employed include beating and underwater ducking

14 February 2008

MADRID - A judge in San Sebastián has summoned eight Civil Guard officers to appear in court as suspects in an investigation into the alleged torture of an ETA member arrested near the town of Mondragón in the Basque Country last month.

The eight officers include four involved in the detention of Igor Portu, a suspect in the bombing of Madrid's Barajas Airport in December 2006, and four others who guarded him during the first of four days he spent in intensive care in a San Sebastián hospital. They are to appear before the court on 22 February.

Portu was arrested at 11am on 6 January together with another suspected ETA member, Martín Sarasola. He was taken to hospital 17 hours later suffering from a broken rib, injuries to his left lung, respiratory problems and extensive bruising.

Civil Guard officials and Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba said that the injuries were sustained when Portu, 30, resisted arrest, tried to escape on foot and had to be subdued by officers. The Civil Guard's version of events was supported by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero with government officials noting that it is ETA's policy to complain of being tortured while in police custody. "ETA members always claim they have been tortured," Rubalcaba told reporters on 10 January.

However, holes in the officers' stories led a San Sebastián judge to open an inquiry. Giving testimony before the judge after being discharged from hospital, Portu said he had indeed been tortured and that, contrary to claims by the Interior Ministry, he did not suffer injuries during his arrest. A witness who watched the arrest take place came forward and concurred that neither suspect had resisted.

Portu said that after being taken into custody, officers repeatedly beat him, forced him to stand for hours and drove him to a river where they kept his head underwater until he almost passed out. On his first day in hospital he said officers threatened more of the same treatment if he complained.

The Interior Ministry did not comment immediately on the judge's decision to charge the eight officers, although Basque opposition parties were quick to seize the opportunity to slam the government's treatment of arrested ETA members.

Mikel Arana, a spokesperson for Ezker Batua, the Basque wing of the United Left coalition, said the judge's decision proves that both Rubalcaba and Zapatero lied to the Spanish public about the circumstances surrounding Portu's arrest and hospitalisation.

"They lied shamelessly, and hid a possible case of torture," Arana said. "What political and democratic legitimacy do they have after committing perjury in the face of torture?" he asked.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / A. EATWELL 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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