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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Media, Law, French intelligence & Guantanamo

As the West is facing growing terrorist threats that could, if it turned to be mass terrorism, change the face of Earth; there are journalists and lawyers for whom it's more important to criticize intelligence agencies and to defend people whose djihad ambitions were obvious but who now pretend they're victims of the GWOT. Soon one will hear them saying they came to Afghanistan for vacation and tourism. Sure.

The controversy deals with the fact that officials from the French secret services; DGSE (akin to the CIA) and the DST (akin to the FBI); illegally questioned 6 french muslims of foreign origin who were imprisoned at Guantanamo. It's been unveiled by an article published by a journalist from the leftist newspaper Liberation, Patricia Tourancheau who revealed a 'diplomatic confidential' (low classified) telex sent by the French Embassy in DC to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris. This telex would be an evidence showing that these 6 frenchmen were illegally questioned in January and March 2002 at Guantanamo. "Illegally" means that french intelligence had no authority to question people who were 'illegally' detained at the Guantanamo Base by the US Military. French intelligence agents insisted in this telex that the US Military had been very cooperative and cordial. Today, the six are being judged for alleged 'criminal conspiracy with the view to preparing terrorist acts'.

Introduced as a scoop, this article raised concerns over how french intelligence works when it comes to deal with international terrorism. As the following sayings of those parisian lawyers (Me Bourdon and Debray) who defend several of the defendants shows, it seems almost surprising to see intelligence working beyond legal ways so as to prevent possible terrorist attacks: "this telex is an evidence... The DST (french counter-intelligence) exploited intelligence obtained through illegal means on behalf of people detained in inhuman and arbitrary conditions which are contrary to international law. That's very serious. One lied to us, and the whole investigation is affected by this unfairness". An investigation that would use intelligence obtained through illegal means and therefore that would make any judgment biased if not null and void. As a result, according to those lawyers, any intelligence about terrorism has to be obtained through legal means. It means that intelligence services have to bring the terrorists right in the office of the agency so as to question them 'legally'. Doesn't it seem completely illogical when you know that intelligence is often secretly if not illegally collected when necessary?

Even if intelligence shows that those guys were linked to terrorist activities, they could be freed because of an alleged procedural error unveiled by a journalist who searched for scandal story. Once again, a whole intelligence operation can be put in jeopardy because of the leak of classified material. First, the french government must identify and sanction the person responsible for this leak. Second, it has to explain why intelligence needs to go beyond traditional legal ways to combat terrorism effectively. Indeed, what the lawyers don't say it that the franco-american cooperation here allowed french officials to make sure that the six french nationals were well treated at Guantanamo. Most Human Rights' defenders say that Guantanamo is inhuman. Yes, There are things that must be changed for sure. However why those french intelligence officials who said that there were no problems of this kind would be unconvincing? Yet they accessed Guantanamo and as intelligence agents, perhaps they were the best qualified to assess the treatment of the prisoners.

Yes, from a strict legal viewpoint, the United States behaves illegally when it imprisons alleged terrorists at Guantanamo. And that's where is the gap, a gap that botches the work of the western intelligence and arouses the fear of politicians for the 'electoral price' of rumors saying that alleged terrorists are humiliated, tortured, beaten and forced to live in inhuman conditions. It doesn't mean that a terrorist deserves to be ill-treated, beaten, tortured, humilitated or else. The matter is to know why intelligence collected the way it's been done by french intelligence would be inadmissible evidence. Indeed, the intelligence officials are high-skilled professionals who hold high-level clearance confering a legal legitimacy to their actions and to the intelligence they collect. Yet according to the defendants, what they told the french intelligence agents is null and void given they were allegedly illegally detained. Shouldn't the intelligence collected by intelligence agents everywhere be admissible evidence? Most will argue that the conditions of detention made the defendants saying anything. Sure, so why didn't they talk about Disneyland instead of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan? "Inhuman and Difficult Psychological" conditions don't necessarily lead someone to talk about terrorist militancy when questioned by intelligence officials (or government's representatives as DGSE and DST agents would have introduced themselves).

If some say that intelligence has to use unconventional ways to combat terror effectively, most readers commented (1) that using illegal means to question terrorists makes you a terrorist as well. Seriously, is there any common point between a fanatic who leaves France to get some terrorist training in Afghanistan with a view to killing innocent people in the name of Islam and intelligence officials whose role is to question him so as to stop his projects of destruction? The gap is that most civilians believe that everything is all the same. Politicians must support the intelligence agencies and explain civilians that everything is being implemented so as intelligence officials to respect human rights and law but that sometimes terrorism compels intelligence agents to take extra measures in order to prevent the threat. The questioning at Guantanamo (if its existence is confirmed) was a necessary 'extra-measure', it has nothing to do with any so-called inhuman treatment or else. Chiefly when it concerns French intelligence which has never been accused of any ill-treatment for the last two decades. Terrorists aren't 'average criminals', they threaten international security and judicial and intelligence powers have to be adapted to the dangerousness and the suddeness of the threat. A Liberation's reader commented: "Questioning a terrorist, it's not sending flowers".

(1) on Liberation discussion boards.
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