Why weaken the security services in the war against terrorism or Libération plays devil's advocate



As a Paris court sits in judgement of six young Frenchmen who spent time in Al Qaeda camps and were detained at Guantanamo Bay, the daily newspaper Libération yesterday saw fit to launch a rocket at the fight against terrorism.

The front-page headline read: "The document that is embarrassing the judges"1. On two inside pages the newspaper "proved that the six Islamists on trial in Paris were illegally interrogated at Guantanamo by French oficers". Elsewhere Libération editorialised with great gravity on "the State which puts on a trial while itself breaching the rule of law". The facts that justify this peremptory judgement are simple. On at least two occasions in 2002, a team made up of functionaries of the counter-terrorist service DST and the external intelligence service DGSE travelled to Guantanamo to identify French detainees there. Along the way the detainees who are now facing a Paris court were interrogated on their itinerary and activities, and reports drawn up.

There is something disturbing according to the Human Rights conscience of the journalists in this Revelation That Never Was. Firstly, this news is not a scoop: everyone close to the fight against terrorism knows that almost all countries with nationals in Guantanamo has sent teams (often a mix of police and intelligence services) to debrief detainees, sometimes on several occasions. That’s true for France as well as for Belgium, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and others. The debriefings have a double aim: firstly to verify the identity and true nationality of detainees. What would Libération have had to say if six young Frenchmen had been ignored and left to rot in Guantanamo? The second aim is clear: urgently to extract whatever information was available on possible future attacks in preparation. Once again, what might Libération have said if an attack had been carried out in Paris and it turned out that it might have been prevented by interrogating a detainee at Guantanamo?

The visits were, besides, strictly organised by the American authorities and subject to precise rules. Each delegation, for example, was only able to meet detainees of their own nationality. Many visitors to Camp X-Ray with whom we have had contact in recent years complained about this arrangement, arguing that the Europeans, who know more about Islamist networks than their American counterparts, could have learned more had they been authorised to 1 Libération, 5 July 2006. meet other detainees. Incidentally, it should be stressed that much useful information was gathered in this way, allowing the structure of networks to be established or clarified, as well as shedding light on the means of infiltrating volunteers into jihad zones. This point puts into perspective the torrent of hypocritical criticisms addressed by Europe to Washington over the "lawless zone" of Guantanamo.

According to Libération, these visits took place "outside of all legal frameworks". That is simply not true. These were at no time judicial interrogations, and even if certain elements were later to prove material to investigations, the reports on these visits at no time became part of any case. The DST acted in accordance with its function as an intelligence service, not as a judicial police outfit. The case of the DGSE is even more simple: since it has so sort of judicial authority whatsoever, it is by definition not concerned with any "legal framework" surrounding an investigation, with which it is not called upon to collaborate. This seems fairly simple to understand.

But this attack on the work of security and intelligence services raises other questions, to the extent that the defence of the men has seized upon the information and makes no secret of its wish to use it to annul all or part of the current trial.

We would tend to see here the influence of that school of thought that denies that the terrorist crisis we are currently engaged in is a war. Now, whatever those higher souls may think, a war cannot be won in the courts alone, and by judicial means. Sometimes you also need a good dose of "special" means supplied by special forces. We need the secret or clandestine actions of our services, and anything that weakens them is a bad thing. But this false good conscience is not Libération's alone. We live in a republic where we recently saw Defence minister Mme Alliot-Marie boast in a letter that the Slav mercenaries who bombed the Bouaké camp in Côte d'Ivoire on 5 November 2004, killing nine French soldiers and an American civilian, had not been "interrogated in depth" by the French military who had them in their charge. This, in the name of "fundamental legal principles"2.

French soldiers die, French civilians die now and may die tomorrow in their hundreds but it is clearly out of the question for some to let the "services" to their work. Make no mistake: we are not saying everything is permitted or desirable. But really, can we seriously say that an interrogation by the intelligence services of mercenaries who killed nine Frenchmen or of terrorist suspects who are preparing to kill hundreds of people is a serious breach of human rights, or the right to a defence? 2 Libération, 3 July 2006. Be in no doubt: if tomorrow the worst were to happen – a chemical attack on the Paris Métro for example – Libération would be among the first to question whether the same services had done enough to prevent the tragedy.

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