A Federal District Judge, James Robertson, has stated that the President had overstepped his powers in establishing special tribunals for the prisoners in Guantánamo. But is anyone paying attention to the ones who have been released and sent back to the countries they are citizens of?
The British are threatening to sue the American government and, no doubt, there are many organizations who are ready to help them with advice and money. Indeed, one of the former Guantánamo prisoners had had criminal proceedings pending against him in this country and these, for some unexplained reasons, have been abandoned.
In Sweden the government has offered to help one of the released prisoners to sue the United States for damages.
So, which are the two countries that have taken a very different attitude to the returning prisoners? One is Russia, as we have already pointed out, where seven former prisoners have disappeared from view. They had not been all that desperate to be released to the Russians and who can blame them. Guantánamo must be a little like a holiday camp compared to what awaited them back home.
The other one is France, the country that had been the most vociferous in its condemnation of all things American. (Incidentally, try to imagine the hyperventilation that French politicians and the French media would have experienced if the United States had behaved the way France is behaving in the Ivory Coast.)
Four prisoners were returned to France. They were immediately arrested by the French authorities and … have disappeared from view. Amnesty International, where are you? According to French law these people can stay in prison for three years without trial while the authorities will decide what to do.
According to the Washington Post (not precisely a pro-Republican, pro-Bush newspaper):
“Armed with some of the strictest anti-terrorism laws and policies in Europe, the French overnment has aggressively targeted Islamic radicals and other people deemed a potential terrorist threat. While other Western countries debate the proper balance between security and individual rights, France has experienced scant public dissent over tactics that would be controversial, if not illegal, in the United States and some other countries.”French authorities have, without much ado, expelled a dozen Islamic clerics for allegedly preaching hatred and religious extremism. The likes of Abu Hamza get short shrift with the gendarmes and the French judicial system.
According to French counter-terrorism officials and officers, pre-emptive action has paid off and they managed to prevent several possible plots and radical Islamic groups. Presumably, none of this radical and potentially dangerous activity had anything to do with the Iraqi war that France opposed extremely vociferously.
As France tries to present herself an emollient, sympathetic, understanding power in the Middle East in opposition to the supposedly harder American approach (give or take a few million American dollars in aid), its internal policy is hardening even more. Interestingly, France does not appear to need the various integrationist policies that her politicians are advocating for the European Union to deal with what they see as the immediate problem in their own country.
“France has embraced a law enforcement strategy that relies heavily on preemptive arrests, ethnic profiling and an efficient domestic intelligence-gathering network. French anti-terrorism prosecutors and investigators are among the most powerful in Europe, backed by laws that allowWhether this is going to solve the long-term problem remains questionable. France has a very large Muslim population (around 6 million), most of whom are North Africans. They have not been well treated and there is a great deal of seething discontent in the areas populated by them (usually the poorest and most derelict banlieus). Extremist imams and agitators, no doubt, take advantage of this situation.
them to interrogate suspects for days without interference from defense attorneys.”
The ferocity with which the authorities have been acting, their disregard for civil liberties and human rights, might well negate the other efforts that have been made to appeal to the French Muslim community at large and to bring them into the fold of the French Republic. So far, there have not been many protests, because, as in most other countries, the vast proportion of Muslims have no desire to support the terrorists. But there have been episodes in recent French history when suppression of extremism extended well beyond that into suppression of all dissent and airing of genuine grievances.
One more question remains: how long can President Chirac represent himself as the man who speaks for all that is finest and most noble in European tradition?