French Guantanamo detainees’ convictions quashed.
In a week that has seen the return of Binyam Mohamed to the UK and the admission by John Hutton that Britain has been complicit in extraordinary rendition, this report shows the failings of introducing mediaeval practises into civilised justice systems. Mohamed’s detention on return, under anti-terrorism legislation, leads to the question of the validity of statements made after alleged sustained torture.
The ‘Guantanamo Five’ acquitted on appeal in Paris
Yesterday evening [24/02/09], the five Frenchmen released from the American detention centre in 2004 and 2005 had their convictions quashed.
On 19th December, 2007, Judge Jean-Claude Kross, presiding over Paris’ 16th Magistrate’s Court, had condemned Brahim Yadel to a five-year custodial sentence, four of which were suspended; Nizar Sassi, Mourad Benchellali, Redouane Khalid and Khaled ben Mustapha were given four-year sentences, three of which were suspended. Another former detainee, Imad Kanouni, was acquitted.
In Tuesday’s judgement, the Court of Appeal rejected the statements made by the five men under interrogation by the French intelligence services at Guantanamo in January and February 2002, and January 2004, considering the latter’s actions to have been undertaken under an intelligence mission and not under the detective branch of policing [PJ]. As the prosecution rested only on these statements, the convictions were quashed.
By way of reminder: from July 2001 onwards, the accused had all followed more or less the same route: Paris, London, Lahore or Jalalabad in Pakistan, Kabul, Kandahar to Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The six young Frenchmen, Mourad Benchellali, Nizar Sassi, Brahim Yadel, Imad Achab Kanouni, Khaled ben Mustapha and Redouane Khalid were intercepted in Afghanistan by American troops, then incarcerated in the prison camp in Cuba for several years.
“The incriminating evidence was obtained in violation of the law.”
If the individuals were indeed the footsoldiers of violent Islamicism, the affair took an unusual, even scandalous turn when the DST [French Counterintelligence Agency] suddenly became involved, at first in secret. A secrecy unveiled during the first judicial session of July 2006, which came to a sudden end as the defence had not had access to many of the DST’s notes, on which the prosecution rested.
The discovery led the Judge to adjourn proceedings to gather more information.
“The incriminating evidence was obtained in violation of the law,” said an outraged Philippe Meilhac, lawyer for ben Mustapha. “In particular, in violation of the right to defend oneself against accusations, which allows any individual under interrogation, in detention or custody, to enjoy the basic procedural rights of any self-respecting democracy (at a minimum, to be informed of the legal basis upon which their interrogators are acting and to be advised of their rights, including to silence, to consult a lawyer and to see a doctor).
Moreover, truthfulness is considered a fundamental principal of French law, established as such in many judicial decisions.
The public prosecutor has appealed the decision.