When France uses Syrian torture

When France uses Syrian torture

The trial of the “ Chechen” networks which begins today is based on consents obtained by force from one of the defendants in Damas.

By Patricia Tourancheau, Libération, March 20, 2006

The case of the defendant Saïd Arif, supposed operational roving and “supervisor” of the so-called “Chechen” networks, risks, at the first day of the trial, to center the debates on a new question asked by his lawyer, Sebastien Bono: “Can French justice accept, as regards fight against terrorism, exhibits obtained by torture in a foreign country, in fact in Syria?”

As of his extradition from Damas on June 17, 2004, Saïd Arif, born in 1965 in Oran, lieutenant deserter of the Algerian army, was presented by the Minister of Interior Ministry of that time, Dominique de Villepin, as a big taking, “a very mobile activist used to all the terrorist techniques learned in Afghanistan and or Chechnya”, « one of the most trained Jihadists to whom our country had to face”. The official statement of Villepin said him to be “in relation to a lieutenant” of the Jordanian enfeoffed to Al-Qaeda’s circles Abou Moussab Al-Zarqaoui and his networks « in the Caucasus zone ».

Ill-treatment. Heard by judge Jean-Louis Bruguière on September 13, 2004, Saïd Arif explains that he was arrested in Syria on July 12, 2003 and “was held in the buildings of the Syrian secret service during one year, with inhuman conditions”. He describes a cell “of 3 feet out of 6 , height 6.5, in total darkness”. He sleeps “on the ground”, without hygiene nor heating. He is beaten at the time of his interrogations: “During all this year of detention in Damas, I was tortured with a cable of television, whereas one had put me in a tire”. The report of Amnesty International on the humans right in Syria precisely denounces the method of the “dullab” which “consists in passing a tire around the victim (…) then to strike him with cables, stems of bamboo or a whip”. Facing the magistrate, Arif continues exposing the “ill-treatment” which were inflicted to him, “the least” being “slaps”, “insults” being “a luxury”. “During this period, one constrained me to recognize facts that I was unaware of. Two days before being extradited, one dictated a declaration to me which I had to personally write in Arabic”. To prove that it was not his own, he says, Arif signed “Afrif” and did not write his first name. He points out to the judge that he does not understand why he was extradited from Syria whereas he is not French, “and, if I’m right, Algeria is not French anymore”, then he keeps silent. After all his questions, the judge mentions: “The indicted person remains mute”.

The charge does not reproach him anything on the French territory but tells that he is related to two other eminent members of the network, Merouane Benhamed and Nourredine Merabet, since all them three were together controlled in Barcelona (Spain) in March 2002. Me Bono underlines, on evidence, that Saïd Arif is kept on the DST and the judge’s eye since the whole beginning of the examination, on November 13, 2002. The DST has from the start wrote his name on the list of the “Moudjahidin having fought in Chechnya” and also targeted him as contact of the “group of Frankfurt” which prepared an action in 2000 against the market of Christmas in Strasbourg.

Accomplices. However the DST and the three judges heard the arrest of Saïd Arif in Damas as of July 2003: “the magistrates should have immediately issued an international warrant for arrest against Saïd Arif and should have claimed his extradition, in order not to leave him in the hands of the soldiers of the Syrian secret service, except accepting the delocalization of torture, rises the lawyer, they waited for ten months, during which Arif was beaten and ill-treated to obtain consents from him, answers were whispered to him”. Me Bono intends today to ask the court for calling to the witness box judge Bruguière and three representatives of organizations like Amnesty International. Especially, the lawyer asks so that “all the exhibits which come from Syria must be turned down from the debates”: “the examining magistrates took the risk to put into the file the alleged confession of Arif obtained under torture, and they are thus accomplices. They ask the court to become the receiver of it. Will French justice accept processes of torturer?”