On Tuesday several Spanish Guardia Civil officers took the witness stand in the Supreme Court’s trial of twelve Catalan independence leaders. They went to a lot of trouble to support the narrative of violence espoused by the Prosecutor and the private plaintiff —far-right party Vox— which sustains the charges of rebellion. Also on Tuesday the defence teams excelled at exposing the contradictions in the testimonies of the witnesses by contrasting their accounts —dotted with words like “terror” and “siege”— with the actual events, which were far less epic.
The strategy followed by the Spanish police in court is nearly always the same: they try to overstate specific events, such as being thrown a few bottles of water —which was described as “a barrage”—, and to interpret the people’s intent, like when they claimed that the crowd [gathered outside the Finance Ministry’s HQ on September 20, 2017] looked as if they might “storm” the building while it was being searched by court officials and Guardia Civil officers. The truth, though, is that no building was ever stormed and not one officer required medical attention.
In other instances the witnesses exaggerated or blatantly lied about specific events, such as when they stated that the Catalan police did not lift a finger to help the officials safely leave the Foreign Ministry on Barcelona’s Via Laietana, The defence attempted to show footage which clearly proved that the Mossos d’Esquadra had set up a cordon to escort the court officials out of the ministry safely. The same video showed how there was no tension between the two police forces at any point.
Needless to say, the Guardia Civil officers could argue that they found themselves in an unprecedented situation: a massive protest outside a government building where a police search was underway. But they should themselves admit that the overall situation was completely exceptional. Never before had a police force been ordered by a court to impede a referendum and investigate alleged “state structures”. Never before in Spain’s democracy had a police operation prompted such a wave of indignation and such a large-scale protest. Likewise, riot police had never before been sent to seize ballot boxes and ballot slips at polling stations occupied by peaceful people. To portray those demonstrations as riots intended to prevent the searches and to present the citizens’ non-violent resistance as an orgy of violence against the law enforcement officers requires a massive leap of imagination.
Ultimately, we should expect the court to disregard the views expressed by the witnesses —as well as the adjectives they used to colour their individual experiences— and stick to the facts. In other words, the evidence. It is precisely the footage taken on the day that will show what truly happened. It will also allow us to say whether the actions by the Spanish police were consistent with the court’s instructions —which stressed the need to preserve peaceful coexistence— or they were a shambles. The Guardia Civil officers who will take the witness stand all this week will parrot out the same spiel. But even they ought to admit that it is totally unheard of —impossible, even— that not one officer was taken off duty for medical reasons as a consequence of the alleged violent uprising by a mob. In contrast there is, indeed, one member of the public (Roger Español) who can prove that he lost an eye [to a rubber bullet fired by Spain’s riot police on October 1 2017] on the day.