Tuesday, November 02, 2004

French Hypocrisy of a Welcome Kind

The Washington Post reports:
French Push Limits in Fight On Terrorism
Wide Prosecutorial Powers Draw Scant Public Dissent

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 2, 2004; Page A01

PARIS -- In many countries of Europe, former inmates of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been relishing their freedom....

Not so in France, where four prisoners from the U.S. naval base were arrested as soon as they arrived home in July, and haven't been heard from since. Under French law, they could remain locked up for as long as three years while authorities decide whether to put them on trial -- a legal limbo that their attorneys charge is not much different than what they faced at Guantanamo.

Armed with some of the strictest anti-terrorism laws and policies in Europe, the French government 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 counterterrorism officials say their preemptive approach has paid off, enabling them to disrupt plots before they are carried out and to prevent radical cells from forming in the first place. They said tips from informants and close cooperation with other intelligence services led them to thwart planned attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Paris, French tourist sites on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and other targets.

"There is a reality today: Under the cover of religion there are individuals in our country preaching extremism and calling for violence," Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin said at a recent meeting of Islamic leaders in Paris. "It is essential to be opposed to it together and by all means."

Thomas M. Sanderson, a terrorism expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said France has combined its tough law enforcement strategy with a softer diplomatic campaign in the Middle East designed to bolster ties with Islamic countries.

"You do see France making an effort to cast itself as the friendly Western power," as distinct from the United States, he said. "When it comes to counterterrorism operations, France is hard-core. . . . But they are also very cognizant of what public diplomacy is all about."

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 allow them to interrogate suspects for days without interference from defense attorneys.

The nation pursues such policies at a time when France has become well known in the world for criticizing the United States for holding suspected terrorists at Guantanamo without normal judicial protections. French politicians have also loudly protested the U.S. decision to invade Iraq, arguing that it has exacerbated tensions with the Islamic world and has increased the threat of terrorism.

Despite the political discord over Iraq, France's intelligence and counterterrorism officials say they work closely with their American counterparts on terrorism investigations....
It's their country, their rules. C'est la vie.