Remembering 11-M: The Madrid Atocha Train Station Memorial

TrainEveryone remembers the anniversary of 911 in the United States, but how many of you out there are familiar with the events of 11-M? That combination of numbers, a hyphen, and one letter refers to March 11, 2004, the date of a diabolically-planned and horribly bloody terrorist attack in Madrid, Spain. Referred to as “the worst Islamist attack in European history” by one writer, the events of that day involved the explosion of 10 bombs on commuter trains headed into downtown Madrid, killing 191 people and severely injuring at least another 1800. Packed with dynamite and nails, the bombs literally tore train cars apart and shredded the bodies of those who died or were injured. Coming just three days before national elections, the attacks were first thought to be an attempt by the Basque separatist group ETA to influence the vote – which led to considerable political finger pointing and controversy that continues even today. The destruction leveled by the bombs came simultaneously, indicating a higher level of sophistication in organization that was later attributed to a group of 6 men led by Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan national who was sentenced to 43,000 to 50,000 years in prison. A Spaniard named Emilio Suárez Trashorras received 34,715 years in prison for supplying the dynamite that was used in the explosions.

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The Atocha Train Station Memorial Is Cylindrical
Photo credit: UR Living Learning / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The investigation of 11-M turned up no direct connection with al Qaeda, although there are indications that Zougam apparently had close ties with the Madrid al Qaeda terrorist cell. Rather than directly connected to al Qaeda, the attacks seem to be the result of self-radicalization inspired by articles posted on al Qaeda websites. The similarities between the Madrid attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing in the United States are obvious, demonstrating the influence such internet connections have in the realm of transnational violence. Zougam was the owner of a cell phone store located in the Lavapiés neighborhood of Madrid, so it was very likely his telephones that detonated the bombs, which were delivered to the sites of the explosions in backpacks. Train passengers who survived the attacks later identified him as the man who was “leaning against a carriage of one of the trains bombed on 11 March.” Indications from the Boston Marathon bombing are that the explosive devices were also delivered to the site in backpacks, and like the Madrid tragedy they were detonated remotely by cell phone. Zougam apparently acted in league with other Moroccan nationals and similarly inclined Indian nationals, all of whom were implicated in the violent crimes.

Spain’s ultimate construction of a memorial dedicated to the bombings came about with a great deal of controversy, largely due to the political ramifications of the attacks – but also owing to the fact that many Spaniards had previously died in other terrorist attacks implemented by Basque separatists – and none of those tragic deaths have been memorialized through a monument.  Ultimately, it was decided that the memorial, now

located in the Madrid Atocha Railroad Station, would be dedicated specifically to those that died in 11-M – thereby abandoning a national monument dedicated to those that have died in other acts of terrorism in Spain. Before the construction of the monument, the need for catharsis was obvious, necessitating the installation of “video walls” at the station – where Madrileños conveyed their respects to the victims of the March 11 terrorist attacks by leaving electronic messages, in lieu of notes and flower bouquets. One writer referred to this unique means of expressing grief and fear as a “high tech sanctuary” providing a “window to the souls of 192 people” that perished in the explosions. The need for a monument was obvious, as conveyed in the words of one citizen of Madrid, who stated “I don’t know anyone who died in the bombings, but I feel for them all the same.”

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The View Inside Has A Spiritual Quality
Photo credit: airefresco / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The Atocha Train Station Memorial is a 36 foot tall cylinder that rises directly out of the ground, in the form of a tower that is illuminated at night by lamps shining from the base of the construction. Floating balloon-like inside the cylindrical structure is a colorless film that is inflated by air – inscribed with thousands of messages of condolence that were made in the days and months after the attacks. Visitors enter the chamber from below, where they view the messages from inside a construction that is composed of glass blocks. Occurring on the third anniversary of the atrocity, the dedication ceremony took place just outside the Atocha Train Station and was attended by King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia, and President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Political fallout from the tragedy was very evident in the form of hecklers, including one survivor of the attacks who lifted a sign calling for the criminal trial of former President José María Aznar at The Hague. Fraught with controversy, the memorial is nevertheless one of the world’s most interesting and touching monuments dedicated to the victims of terrorism.

There are certain lessons to be learned from the Atocha Train Station Memorial, not just in Spain but in the United States and around world as well. As with the Benghazi attacks in recent U. S. history, the Madrid tragedy became an issue of political finger pointing, rather than a rallying point for promoting world peace. Would those who have died in terroristic events want their deaths tied to political maneuvering, or would they instead wave the flag of intercultural dialogue, tolerance, and peace? Families that have lost loved ones to acts of terrorism are quick to provide an answer to that question, and it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with world amity. Likewise, critics in Spain have pointed to the need for a national monument dedicated to ALL victims of terrorism, due to the many that have died in other terrorist attacks. This is also true in the United States, because hundreds of citizens of that country have died in heinous acts of transnational violence in places such as Lockerbie, Kuwait City, Beirut, Istanbul, Athens, Dhahran, and Nairobi – just to name a few. Like the victims of ETA in Spain, none of those victims have been recognized through a monument. Join this website in moving such a cause forward – click on the link below and sign the petition!

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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International Law and The Hague: The Peace Palace

LawLiving in the years prior to the Bolshevik Revolution and the foundation of Soviet Russia, Friedrich Martens was a diplomat in the employ of the Czars who played an instrumental role in the formation of international law. Representing the Russian Empire at the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1909, he is perhaps best known as the author of the Martens Clause for transnational law, but he also figured prominently in the establishment of the Peace Palace, which is also frequently referred to as the “seat of international law.” The first Hague Peace Conference of 1898 had called for the creation of a Permanent Court of Arbitration – and in discussing this development with U. S. diplomat Andrew White, Martens had mentioned the need for a permanent home for the new court. White took the financial requirement for this important building to the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who donated the $1.5 million dollars for the construction of a “peace temple” that was also expected to house a library of international law. French architect Louis Marie Cordonnier won the rights to design the Peace Palace through an international competition the Carnegie Foundation sponsored, and the eventual drawings fell heavily within the Neo-Renaissance style that dominated the late 1800s and early 1900s. The first symbolic stone was laid in place during the Second Hague Peace Conference and the official inauguration ceremony, which was attended by Andrew Carnegie himself, occurred on August 28, 1913.

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The Peace Palace Officially Opened August 28, 1913
Photo credit: Pieter Musterd / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

For one hundred years, the Carnegie Foundation has been the owner and caretaker of the Peace Palace, which presently houses the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and The Hague Academy and Library of International Law. The building is one of “uncommon grandeur,” surrounded by gardens and situated on a north-south axis that that is customary with classical architecture. Built at a time of great hopes for world peace, in an epoch that included hundreds of active peace movements with millions of members and supporters, it stands as a monument to a huge peace movement that was sweeping Europe at the time – but which would meet with tragic disappointment with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Accommodations at the facility include a foyer, visitor’s center, deliberation room, seminar room, and an academy hall that seats up to 350 people. Lectures and seminars are constantly in session, with a myriad of presentations that occurred to honor the 100th anniversary of August 28, 2013. Due to its crucial role in international peace and justice proceedings, tours of the Peace Palace are only available on the weekend – in fact, the building is not open to the public during the week in respect to the people that are working there on a daily basis towards world peace. However, the visitor’s center is open daily for interested parties.

Meeting within the Peace Palace is the International Court of Justice, which is charged with the duty of settling – in agreement with international law – legal disputes that are submitted from around the globe. At times, the Court will also provide advisory decisions on legal matters that have been submitted by authorized United Nations entities or specialized agencies – and of the six principal organs of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice is the only one based in a location other than New York City. The 15 judges that make up the Court are elected to 9 year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council. Convening officially in the languages of English and French, it is also assisted by its managerial organ known as the Registry, which helps in the administration of international justice, diplomacy with litigant countries, and the general day-to-day organizational tasks of the Court as it conducts its business. Approximately 100 appointed officials, holding permanent and temporary office, work in the Registry – taking an “oath of loyalty and discretion” before assuming their appropriate duties. Their salaries and pension rights are the responsibility of the United Nations. Also meeting in the Peace Palace is the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which provides “services for the resolution of disputes involving various combinations of states, state entities, intergovernmental organizations, and private parties.”

The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice
Photo credit: United Nations Photo / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Down through the years, the Court’s research efforts have relied upon access to both the Peace Palace Library and its own library, which was officially created in 1931. Collecting publications since 1913, the Peace Palace Library is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious libraries specializing in the area of international law. Its primary function is to provide service to the various organizations that are housed in the Peace Palace, but it is also accessible to scholars and students involved in international law the world over. With over one million volumes that can be searched through an online catalogue, the Peace Palace Library is one of the many institutions within the Carnegie Foundation, whereas the official library of the Court that was created in 1931 is a separate entity and not open to the public. Benefitting in 1937 from a major donation from Judge Henri Fromageot of France, who was a Member of the Permanent Court of International Justice from 1929 to 1945, it now contains over 500,000 volumes that are in many cases very rare and precious. The purpose of the Court’s Library “is to assist the Members of the Court and staff of the various departments of the Registry – in particular the Legal and Linguistic Departments – with their research.”

So, how many important decisions on world terrorism has the International Court of Justice handed down, you might ask? The short answer to such a question is very few – close to none at all. Such conclusions on the part of the Court would require legal precedent, for which there is none to find. As experts on the subject have concluded, “establishing a universally accepted definition of terrorism remains a work in progress,” and the ultimate successful definition will “have to reconcile political expediency with international law.” These same experts are also very quick to point out that even the horrific “shock of 9/11 was not enough to break a century of impasse about how to define it in international law.” Down through the years, terrorism has been strangely and inappropriately regarded as political violence, rather than a crime against humanity – whether it is home grown or international in scope. In the years since the end of World War II in 1945, a comprehensive multinational convention on the subject of terrorism has never occurred – leading to “the continuing lack of agreement within the United Nations on a common definition of international terrorism.” In light of these facts, the establishment and inherent message of a monument to the victims of terrorism reaches beyond the confines of the United States, to the very ends of the earth – because terrorism is a crime that needs to be defined explicitly. Please join us in such respects by clicking on the link below and signing the petition to which this website is dedicated.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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