General Laguna, head of the Civil Guard in Asturias during the 11M plot, breaks years of silence: “It was shameful to see some politicians using the facts”

By Pedro Laguna Palacios, retired General of the Civil Guard

I recommend that anyone who expects to find new and juicy information about the 11M investigations in these lines stop reading. I think that 20 years after that terrible attack everything is counted and the only thing that remains truly important is the indelible pain of the victims. The only consolation I can think of that we could offer survivors today is the certainty of our learning and the assurance that we will take steps to prevent history from repeating itself.

This is a task that concerns us all, but especially those of us who decide to dedicate our professional lives to others. The mandate to care for and protect our fellow citizens that we swear to fulfill in the Civil Guard is assumed vocationally by our women and men. For us it is not a professional obligation, but a way of understanding life.

Perhaps this explains why, often with limited capacity in relation to our multiple and demanding citizen security competencies, such notable results are achieved. In this aspect, Asturias usually stands out and it also did so in 2004. At that time the region recorded the best rates in the country in crime resolution, security indices and low crime.

Obviously, this circumstance did not shield us from threats or make us infallible, as was proven, but it is fair to remember what the reality of Asturias in this matter was and is. In my opinion, thanks largely to the action of the Civil Guard.

However, sheltered from the attack, that objective reality was even questioned by those who should defend it. It was shameful to see then, and it is painful to see even today, how some politicians used the facts in an interested way to obtain some type of advantage or performance, even at the cost of baselessly smearing not only people with names and surnames, but the entire an institution.

The efficiency of the Civil Guard, like that of other institutions of the rule of law, is based largely on its ability to earn the trust of citizens. Deserving it is your responsibility. She must earn it through the daily exercise of her duties, but she should never have to defend herself from those who are supposed to accompany her in that objective.

The political parties that, under the excuse of an alleged search for the truth, gave shelter to lies, misinformation, and the deliberate introduction of lucubrations and false insinuations, contributing to fear and general distrust, should now, with the facts prosecuted and the proven story, wondering what it was for. And, if they have any dignity left, what measures have they taken to prevent these vile attitudes from being encouraged or allowed among their own?

The search for truth is a legal and moral obligation. Those of us who accept the noble objective of citizen protection are prepared to assume that the responsibility for failure is high, as is that for success, although this is not perceived with the same clarity. We know very well the consequences of what we fail to avoid, but we will never be able to accurately measure what we do prevent. And believe me, we succeed much more often than we fail.

In a reduced form, the ramification of the 11M attack in Asturias is the story of the murder weapon. Unfortunately, the explosives with which an unprecedented attack was perpetrated came from this region. And that is the connection that links this land with that execrable crime. It seems important to me to remember the obvious because at that time we were witnessing an unconventional, and probably very interesting, exercise of shifting the usual focus of the story. The theft of explosives became the protagonist of the story, when in a crime the attention usually focuses on who, what and why with more emphasis than on what with.

This reflection is not an attempt to avoid responsibility for any errors that may have been committed, but rather a necessary exercise to contextualize the facts objectively. At that time there was not a climate of special alert in Asturias regarding aspects that later turned out to be decisive for jihadist terrorists to obtain the explosive material and, much less, could it be easily imagined that, as we later learned, their spontaneous and instrumental relationship with our region would have such fatal consequences.

Precisely, it is important to discern what we knew then and what we knew later. If those responsible for the ongoing investigations had known everything with the abundance of details that we later obtained, we would have acted differently, but that is not the natural course in the investigation of possible crimes.

At that time there was an investigation that affected individuals who today we know were fundamental collaborators of the material authors of the attack, but then they were investigated on suspicion of crimes related to drugs or theft.

That investigation is carried out operationally by the Oviedo and Gijón commands and also has the support of two officers from Madrid. Existing evidence is investigated and followed, with the difficulties inherent to these procedures, such as the difficult task of giving veracity to information from confidants who are not very credible or who often have their own interests in their revelations to authority.

After different actions, the lines of investigation do not obtain conclusive results and the operation is then left in a state of latency, although it is not closed, waiting for new clues or some type of progress to appear. That didn’t happen.

In our work we must accept that research does not always observe the expected results and, unfortunately, we can never be infallible, although in our desire to serve we must always aspire to it. I hope that now, with the Civil Guard commands of Oviedo and Gijón unified, we can be more efficient in the investigation procedures. I believe that this is a clear operational advantage that should have been carried out much earlier, as was already arranged since 1994 and that had not occurred until recently, in my opinion, for political and not technical reasons.

Measures like this, the optimization of internal procedures and, especially, the support of a responsible political class in its attitude towards its security forces are the best way to contribute to the efficiency of the Civil Guard. Of course, we must submit to constructive and demanding criticism, but not accept gratuitously incriminating criticism.

By doing this we strengthen the commitment made by our guards, loyal women and men, with the Asturians. This is also the shortest way to prevent crimes as horrible as the one committed on the Atocha trains in 2004 and perhaps the only way we have today to honor the pain of the victims.