Thursday, April 21, 2011


On August 16 a rather unique event is due to take place in Madrid’s El Retiro Park when hundreds of atheists are expected to queue to take confession in protest at the Catholic World Youth Day being held in the city which the Pope is to attend.

I take the view that if you have a religious faith or none you have a total right to practice and hold those beliefs. For instance I believe the Pope has every right to visit his faithful in Spain or any other country. However I totally reject the notion I or any other citizen should have to fund that visit. If a religious leader is the guest of his or her faithful then it is those believers who should pay. This is the main reason why atheists will be protesting on August 16 with the “Confesión masiva de Ateos” and I as a Catholic agnostic support them fully.

When the Pope visits Madrid to take part in the Catholic World Youth Day it will be his second visit within a year following on from Santiago and Barcelona. For this privilege the Spanish tax payer, regardless of his or her beliefs, has and will have to dug deep to fund it. Those who are atheists and oppose this event say El Retiro will become a Catholic theme park between August 16 and 21 and in a sense they are right.

Even if you did hold the view that tax payers should support such visits it would be hard to justify at this present time. Spain is being battered by the economic crisis, there is a record high number of jobless, the long term unemployed have had their financial support removed and pensions are under attack. How in those circumstances can a government fund a Papal visit whilst the number of its homeless, jobless and poverty stricken rises dramatically?

The organisers point out seven Spanish government ministries will be at the event’s beck and call. To subsidise the cost of staging the international gathering the Catholic Church has gone online and established a shop where the faithful can buy or contribute towards vestments and religious objects to be used during the ceremonies.

The organisers believe up to two million young people will take part. Based on previous World Youth Days a third are expected to come from Madrid, another third from the rest of Spain with the balance from the Church worldwide. Travel visas for those from outside the Schengen nations will be free.

Various non-faith organisations have criticised the fact that the church is to be given the use of schools and sports complexes for the young people to stay in by Madrid’s town hall, public health and security services come free, as well as bracelets allowing those attending to visit tourist sites without charge. Businesses sponsoring the World Youth Day will receive financial benefits.

During his visit Pope Benedict will hold a mass at the Cuatro Vientos airfield along with 1,000 cardinals and bishops plus 10,000 priests from 150 countries, which brings us to the confessionals.

One of the major concessions is the use of El Retiro where booths will be set up for hundreds of priests speaking all the major languages to hear the confessions of the young people taking part.

The atheists intend to flood the confessionals between 16.30 and 19.30 on August 16 by taking their places in the booths and totally disrupting the hearing of the young Catholics’ sins. The words “Forgive me father for I have sinned” will be replaced by declarations of atheism instead.

Emi Aperte from Castejón in Navarra created the Facebook page for the event and explained: “The idea came one night when I was talking to my friend Marivic about the news which said Madrid town hall would give El Retiro Park, which is a public place, for confessions. We decided we should show our dissent by taking advantage of the mass confessionals and everybody going to confess whatever they want. From there we created the event and made it public.”

One of those supporting the “Confesión masiva de Ateos” is Fa López Garcia from Ferrol who is an educator. She explained: “The religions have demonstrated during human history that they have manipulated, oppressed and tortured all that have raised their voice against this system demanding free thinking. The Catholic Church is one of the most influential religions in the West with a good marketing business that for over 2,000 years knows and is conscious that to go on to the street to demonstrate is a strong act of solidarity for the institution. The lay movement knows all these strategies can be created in parallel with demonstrations in support of the liberty of belief. The atheist demonstrations have been prohibited in public by the Spanish State. Meanwhile the ecclesiastic professions have all the support of the Spanish State. In conclusion we have a Spanish Constitution but we can declare that out society is still very far from the thoughts and actions of the Second Republic. Our historical memory is weak and manipulated.”

Those who want to support the “Confesión masiva de Ateos” will find it on Facebook at!/event.php?eid=137299326332220 – needless to say there are many other protests planned to coincide with the World Youth Day and Papal visit. It is estimated that over the Pope’s visits to Santiago, Barcelona and now Madrid 29.8 million euros will be paid by the Spanish public with Madrid town hall and the Comunidad de Madrid contributing over 25 million euros. Europa Laica is to send the Pope a fake bill for the total.

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on Wednesday April 20 2011)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


It was in August of last year when I first wrote in the Morning Star about José Couso, the Telecinco news cameraman, who was killed on April 8 2003 when he was hit and fatally wounded by a shell from a US Mark 1 Abrams tank fired at the Hotel Palestine in Bagdad.

The US has constantly refused to send the three military members implicated in the case to Spain to face trial. Last week a startling new submission was made to the Spanish High Court which suggests the tank crew had lied to their superiors.

Since Couso’s death his family have tried to have the tank crew tried by the Spanish courts. Various judges have opened proceedings only for the cases to be shelved. In December El País revealed the Wiki Leaks papers which suggested the US Government had pressured its counterpart in Madrid and in turn the Spanish judicial authorities not to proceed with the investigation. Both governments deny any such conspiracy. The Couso family demanded an enquiry.

In July 2010 High Court Judge Santiago Pedraz opened a new investigation and the three US Army officers were charged with a crime against the international community along with homicide and are now the subjects of find and capture warrants. It is no surprise the US authorities have refused to co-operate with bringing about their detention.

Last Wednesday lawyers acting for the Couso family presented before a judge at the High Court a report produced by two Doctors of Physical Science who are also leading professors at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid.

They had travelled to the Hotel Palestine in Bagdad to inspect the site of the tragedy. Their six page report concludes that the US tank that fired at the building killing José Couso and his Ukrainian colleague Taras Protsyuk had a clear view of the terrace on which he was filming. If true it goes against the version of events given by the tank crew who told their superiors they had fired after they saw a flash of light from Couso’s room.

The six-page report was requested by the lawyer acting for Couso’s family. The tests were carried out on photographs taken during the visit to Bagdad by a judicial commission headed by High Court judge Santiago Pedraz on January 28.

The digital images were taken from the exact spot from where the M1 Abrams tank fired on the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge towards the hotel where the shell exploded. The professors used calculations and optics to obtain a simulation of what could be seen from the visor at the top of the tank. Their calculations took in to account various factors such as the distance between the hotel and the tank (1.7 kilometres), the angle of firing (79.5 degrees), the height of the 14 th floor of the hotel where the terrace on which Couso was filming stands, the angle of the vision system of the tanks turret (6.5 degrees) and the maximum vision of the M1 Abrams tank.

The tests are said to have faithfully reproduced the vision from the bridge and the hotel terrace. According to judicial sources this evidence would suggest that the three soldiers, without any reasonable doubt, had perfectly clear vision of the terrace and the windows of the room from which Couso was filming when he was hit by the shell.

The person who ordered the tank to fire was Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp the head of the armoured division who transmitted the order to Captain Philip Wolford to fire the shell and Sergeant Thomas Gibson who made up the tank’s crew. It is also alleged they knew the hotel was in a civilian zone and was occupied by journalists indeed Reuters, Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV had their offices there. Hence to fire at the building was almost certain to result in the death of civilians or journalists.

The report requested by the Couso family runs parallel to another being produced for Judge Pedraz. Again using material gathered during his January visit a group of experts in the Comunidad de Madrid are also working with the photographs and videos on their own report.

This Friday there will be a demonstration outside the US Embassy in Madrid at 20.00 in support José Couso. It marks the 8 th anniversary of the day he was killed by the US tank. Present will be his mother, family members, his lawyer, a witness to his death and other supporters. Their aim is simple – to have the US Government hand over the tank crew to stand trial.

When reopening the case last year Judge Pedraz expressed the hope that the Obama administration in Washington would be more co-operative than its Bush predecessor in wanting to establish the true facts surrounding Couso’s death. Sadly it would appear the USA believes only its citizens have a right to justice and certainly not a Spanish news cameraman or his family.

(The above article will appear in The Morning Star in the coming days)