Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 14:51 GMT
ETA interviewed: a captive audience
ETA gunmen: Responsible for hundreds of deaths
By Southern Europe Correspondent Olga Guerin
All three of us, producer Eva Ewart, cameramen Sam Gracey and myself, were numb. We had been given unprecedented access to the most senior leaders of ETA, the men who have masterminded what is now Europe's longest war. Now the interview was over and we had come to a parting of the ways.
I was out of the car in an instant, but Sam was stuck. Maybe it was tiredness, maybe it was tension, one way or the other he could not open the door.
He called for help. I did not hear him but the driver did. He pulled open the back door with a smile. "This is the car we use for kidnapping," he said and laughed. Weeks afterwards I cannot get those words out of my mind.
ETA was not easy to get to; it took months of dedicated pursuit, much of it by Eva, our producer. Ironically, my Irishness helped to open some doors. I did not know whether to be grateful or offended at what was being assumed.
Our rendevous with the ETA leadership took place outside Spain, in another European country. As arranged, we were picked up by escorts who were taking no chances. "Keep looking at the ground," they said. "Look at your feet, do not look at anything else." It was an order but it was issued politely. We did not need to be told twice.
Blindfolded with plasters
As we were hustled in and out of a series of cars, our escorts apologised repeatedly for any discomfort. We were given sticking plasters to cover our eyes and politely offered a choice of sunglasses to conceal the plasters. It was a brief taste of the hostage experience, but with gold card treatment.
When we finally reached our destination I expected hostility from the hard men at the top of ETA. Instead they offered tea and coffee, asked if we were warm enough and if they could help with our equipment. Having a gun waved in my face would have been less disturbing.
But when the interview began, the real ETA emerged - cold, and without mercy. The two hooded figures who faced me, I shall call them Gorka and Ion, did not refuse any questions. They had not been told in advance what would be asked.
Having killed almost 800 people over the past 30 years, I did not expect ETA to have a sudden change of heart about violence, but I did think there might be some small expression of regret, sincere or otherwise. There was none.
When I asked about Miguel Angel Blanco, there was a curt and clinical reply. To Gorka, this young man, whose killing brought six million Spaniards out onto the streets in protests, was just another number. He was a councillor for Spain's Popular Party. In Gorka's words that made him a target, like any other councillor from the ruling party. ETA has killed seven of them.
Ion said little during the interview but from time to time there were signs that he did not like the questions. He flexed his fingers inside the black leather gloves that hid his hands. Was it deliberate, I wondered, or just the subconscious gesture of a man who passes death sentences and carries them out.
The interview has stuck with me, like a splinter beneath the flesh.