ADVOCATE OF TERROR / L’Avocat de la terreur
A documentary film by Barbet Shroeder
Reviewed by Robert L. Miller
November 2, 2007
Barbet Schroeder’s film was awarded the prize for best documentary at Cannes, and is a riveting experience. The picture offers a candid view of the reactions and personas of many important international terrorists that have been in the news since the 1960s. It is mostly about the career of Jacques Verges one of Europe’s most controversial defense attorneys seen through a critical and at times overly sympathetic camera. From the start the reader should be aware that the actual victims of terrorism, the first to die at the hands of the killers, are rarely mentioned or shown and that the perpetrators of those crimes are portrayed by their attorney as “soldiers” fighting for a just cause.
Around 1932, at the beginning of the Verges story, there was the vast French Colonial Empire with over 100 million inhabitants many times more populated and immense than France itself. The rare product of intermarriage in those days of strong racial prejudice, the attorney to be is the son of a French father from the island of La Reunion, located in the Indian Ocean, and a Vietnamese mother. He is culturally and emotionally completely French while his features retain an elegant and distinctive Asian character. From the start the audience understands that he is also a consummate actor given to high flying histrionics who could certainly have played many roles at the Comedie Francaise.
By 1944 Verges joins De Gaulle’s Free French and stays on in Paris after the liberation where he attends law school and becomes active in various anti-colonialist student associations. One of his close friends is a Cambodian student who will become the infamous “brother” Pol Pot. The key incident that sets the colonial issue on fire is the violence of May 8, 1945 in the small town of Setif in Algeria where celebrations of the German surrender – V-E Day – turn into a tragic confrontation between Arab nationalists and French settlers. According to the film a few Algerian nationalists waved the subversive green and white flag of independence that had been banned by the authorities, a policeman suddenly fired a shot killing one of the demonstrators and a murderous scene followed that continued for many days throughout most of eastern Algeria.
The documentary includes some rare film clips of that tragedy. The Algerians ended up killing 147 Frenchmen throughout the region while the repression took an immensely disproportionate toll estimated between 4000 and 40,000 depending upon the sources. Vergès puts the number at 10,000 and he may be closest to reality.
A few key facts are omitted from the documentary either voluntarily or because of time and space constrictions or both. In 1945 the French army had only 60,000 men in all of North Africa while most of its troops were still in Europe waiting to be demobilized. During the incidents local authorities panicked and distributed rifles to the French settlers and even to Italian POWs who took a harsh revenge on the Algerians. The film barely mentions any of the French victims nor does it offer any details other than from interviews of Algerian FLN nationalists. No French survivors or military men who took part in that tragedy are interviewed and the audience is left to discover in a corner of the screen whether were any French victims of the tragedy at all. The unrest is portrayed as boiling over suddenly, without any warning because of spontaneous violence that began with a policeman firing a shot.
Key historical underpinnings are missing and only a vague mention is made of the Allied landings of November 1942 and their profound influence over the colonial populations in North Africa. Algerian Muslims could see for the first time that France had lost its preeminence as a great power. The more educated nationalists knew the language of the Atlantic Charter and Franklin Roosevelt’s encouragement of independence movements in the European colonies. A great wave of hope that immediate independence was at hand swept the land in the wake of the victory of 1945, along with the rising expectations and many years of frustrated desires for improvement of Algerian Muslims and their quest for political autonomy.
Another important missing component is the economic reality of North Africa in 1945 that immediately followed the ephemeral prosperity generated by the hundreds of thousands of Allied troops suddenly vanished as the war moved north into western Europe, the local population settled into a routine of low wages, widespread poverty and dangerously high unemployment among young men. France itself was in the process of digging out of the sequels of the war and occupation and consequently had little to offer to any of its colonies. The bloody repression, as General Duval stated and is underscored in the film, would buy France “ten years of peace” in North Africa. His prediction turned out to be true almost to the month when the Algerian war began on November 1, 1954.
The film omits a second key element of the story: the reaction of metropolitan France to the bloody events at Sétif. The major French newspapers barely mentioned the troubles including those of the Communist party and when they did it was to point to the “obvious” influence of Arab pro-Nazi agitators and stay-behind German agents. The French Communist party, then the second largest in the country and a member of the provisional government coalition, condemned the Arab nationalists in harsh terms lumping together Nazi Germany and Arab nationalism. This position was not simply based on political rhetoric since German and Italian propaganda had effectively forged the links that existed between certain Arab Nationalists and Nazi-Fascist ideology that promised full independence to all Arab countries.
The film then introduces a sometime associate of Arab terrorism and Jacques Verges, the Swiss banker François Genoud, a longtime admirer of Adolf Hitler. In 1936 as a young traveling journalist, Genoud happened to be in Baghdad during an anti-British coup attempt by Iraqi nationalists where he met, among others, Rachid Ali Gaylani, who was later to lead a failed pro-Nazi coup attempt in April-May 1941. The 1936 coup failed and Genoud continued his trip to Jerusalem then under the British Mandate where he obtained an introduction to the Grand Mufti Hadj Amin El Husseini with whom he would maintain a lifelong personal and business relationship until the Mufti’s death in 1974.
None of this detail emerges clearly enough in the film and yet the Swiss banker would continuously play a key role in helping former Nazis and Arab nationalist terrorists in Europe and the Middle East often in tandem with Verges as their lawyer until his suicide in 1995.
Late in 1944 even before Nazi Germany was defeated, Genoud was thinking of ways to protect the property of former key Nazis: Hitler, Bormann, Goebbels and others who owned property and had produced books, paintings and diaries of different kinds that could be reproduced, translated and sold. Genoud was the first to translate and publish the famous monologs transcribed from Adolf Hitler’s evening conversations known as Hitler’s Table Talk and he successfully brokered the French and English language editions of that book in 1952 and 1953.
Genoud’s reaction to the Algerian incidents of 1945 which he explained to his biographer in 1995 was unfortunately not included in the film:
“…the massacre [at Setif] of Algerians who naively believed that the victory of freedom had dawned all over the world. It was also a revealing snapshot: the humiliated France of 1940 needing to reaffirm its power and role as the fourth great power that the Big Three grudgingly accepted that she be allowed to play because of the personality of General De Gaulle should have been enough to satisfy her vanity. Then France decides to “bash Arab heads” and I understood how the Arab revolt would draw the other subjugated peoples to carry on the struggle against cosmopolitan capitalism…”
“Cosmopolitan capitalism” in Genoud’s neo-Nazi vocabulary is a euphemism for Zionism, Jewish finance and Jews in general, restating the old Nazi and Fascist slogans from the 1940s and giving new life to barely veiled genocidal plans aimed at the Israelis.
Attorney Jacques Vergès defended the Algerian FLN terrorists as early as 1955 among them the famous Djamila Bouhired who planted bombs in dance halls and cafés causing the death and mutilation of innocent young French civilians. She came under the supervision of Yacef Saadi— who is interviewed in his Algiers apartment, he is now a retired terrorist and a senator for life in the Algerian parliament. Djamila was condemned to death by a French court but the sentence was not carried out and she eventually went free. Vergès fell in love, converted to Islam and married Djamila with whom he had two children while his wife became an icon to the Algerian people and nationalist sympathizers everywhere.
After moving his law practice to Algiers and directing a left wing magazine with his wife, Vergès was introduced to Palestinian terrorist groups during the 1960s and 70s when he had his first encounter with Genoud. But he then mysteriously disappeared for several years, permanently deserting his wife and children. He later claimed to be living off money obtained in the defense of Moise Tchombe, the former president of Katanga province in the Congo who was being held in a prison in Algiers where he eventually died. Tchombe’s death remains a black mark on the Algerian Republic and the film is silent about the many rumors that he had been severely tortured.
Vergès went on to defend terrorists and former Nazis from Klaus Barbie to the Baader-Meinhof gang, and Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez known as Carlos the Jackal now in prison in Paris for the murder of two French police officers among many other violent crimes. The disturbing connection between Vergès and Genoud remains associated with political violence perpetrated by Arab terrorists, Nazi assassins, his old friend Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouges whom he professes to admire and “understand,” as well as several brutal African tyrants.
Genoud was clever enough to always maintain a safe distance between himself and the murderous acts perpetrated by the killers, but in a few instances he allowed himself to get much too close: as in the case of Dr. Wadie Haddad and Black September. In light of his activities it seems almost incredible that the Mossad never attempted to suppress Genoud who shared many of the same obsessions as attorney Vergès. No wonder the two got along so well.
By Robert Miller
RE: NY Times Editorial "Stuck in the "Canal" by David Fromkin
October 28, 2006
A few statements in Professor Fromkin’s very interesting Op-Ed article invite a corrective response.
First point: President Eisenhower felt "betrayed" by Anthony Eden and the Suez coalition of Great Britain, France and Israel. This is borne out by Security Council meetings and conversations but could also be an "after the fact" justification for not backing up the coalition. The Suez crisis was long and slow moving affair that lasted from June to October 1956. John Foster Dulles appears to have always been well informed of coalition plans. Perhaps Dulles was privately at variance with the President’s views but dared not let it be known. As Wm Roger Louis has shown contrary to what many contemporary commentators wrote Eisenhower was always in full control of foreign policy not Dulles. On March 1, 1957 Dulles and French conservative Member of Parliament Roger Duchet had lunch at the State Department:
"Is the U.S. pleased that in a crucial crisis it betrayed its western allies and that this could have dramatic consequences?" asked Duchet abrasively. Dulles replied after some thought: "I was hoping French and British troops would take Alexandria and Cairo and place me in front of a fait accompli...The west hesitated and was unable to defend what it considered its vital interests. I could only draw the necessary conclusions." [Translated from the French by this writer.] In Georgette Elgey La République des Tourmentes 1954-1959 Vol. IV Part 2 (Paris: Fayard, 1997) p.242-243.
Was the U.S. actually hoping for "regime change" in Egypt in 1956? Dulles had rebuffed Nasser on the Aswan Dam project humiliating the Egyptian strong man prompting him to move towards the USSR an outcome certain to provoke the United States. Conservative Iraqi leader Nuri es-Said was calling in private for the overthrow of the Nasser regime and had suggested a dynastic solution to the British: either return Farouk to the throne or install the son of last Khedive of Egypt. Nuri was convinced that Nasser would fall quickly if the British and French took control of Cairo and the Egyptian people would welcome a return to a moderate and stable monarchic regime.
Western intelligence services, weakened by the Suez crisis in the Middle East, were faced with a fait accompli on July 14, 1958 when a military coup overthrew the Iraqi monarchy murdering young King Faycal II, and his Prime Minister Nuri es-Said. Western influence and the Baghdad Pact were instantly swept away from Iraq ushering in 50 years of bloody Iraqi dictatorships, Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party.
Second point: France was working on its own nuclear capability since 1952 with the full knowledge of the State Department and by December 1956 decided to actively develop nuclear weapons. Israel, with help from French Prime Minister Bourgès-Maunoury in 1957, set up a nuclear reactor at Dimona and a credible deterrent against aggression.
Third point: Prof. Fromkin’s statement "The undoing of the British-French-Israeli alliance was that it rested on a lie." The coalition partners each had different motivations: Israel needed a secure border with Egypt and end of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule; Britain wished to regain its traditional influence, get rid of Nasser and protect the Suez Canal; France was fighting a bloody war in Algeria and Nasser was providing moral and material assistance to the FLN insurrection. The coalition came into being because all three countries recognized in Nasser a destabilizing and dangerous element in the Middle East.
The U.S. was weeks away from a presidential election and confronted with a crisis in Hungary. The Soviet Union while crushing the Hungarian revolt was also threatening nuclear attacks on France, Great Britain and Israel if they didn’t pull out of Egypt. In both cases, Suez and Budapest, Eisenhower opted to leave his allies in the lurch. The Americans chose not to listen and observe what their allies were doing and followed a different course; but they were not betrayed at all.
Since the Atlantic Charter and FDR’s meeting with Mohammed V at Casablanca in 1943 America was seen as favoring independence. But the US remained poorly informed about local situations, had very little experience of dealing with Arab countries and ended up with a radically different result from what it originally expected. The CIA encouraged the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952, set up Nasser as the revolutionary nationalist dictator of Egypt by 1954, a move it would bitterly regret. Nasser quickly turned into a deft player of the cold war game.
Suez didn’t trigger decolonization; the entire process had been gestating long before 1945. The United States contributed mightily to raise the expectations of the colonial peoples during the war and was pressuring its European allies to grant independence but there was no timetable and in the minds of all concerned it was to be a gradual process. Decolonization while inevitable could have taken different forms and avoided the bloodshed had it not been used by extremists and principally Marxist Leninists manipulating legitimate nationalist sentiments. There was not enough time to train and set up the competent governing elites necessary for any new nation to grow into a state.
November 22, 2006
IRAQ AND VIETNAM
Mark Moyar’s Vietnam Solution
Mark Moyar, author of a new provocative book on the Vietnam war TRIUMPH FORESAKEN The Vietnam War 1954-1965 (Cambridge, 2006) provides a well reasoned proposal of a possible "solution" for Iraq. In a comparative analysis that appears to fit with Vietnam in 1954-63 up to the point when the US allowed President Diem room to maneuver and conduct the war and run Vietnam in a manner attuned to local conditions and customs the situation was moving in a direction favorable to US interests. Once American political advisers and diplomats –Henry Cabot Lodge in particular -- attempted to impose an external solution that mirrored the American political system, the result was the overthrow of Diem by a group of officers who immediately proved incapable of running the country.
In Iraq as is widely known by now the US went to war without a post war plan to provide basic security and economic viability for the people who were immediately faced with widespread looting, lawlessness and a drastic disappearance of their living standards. The rules of political engagement in Iraq, a country ruled with an iron fist since it’s creation by Great Britain after 1920, embracing sudden political freedom without basic security was disastrous and led in part to the terrorism we have encountered since 2003. Economic chaos and an unemployment rate of 60% among young men is the best recipe for terrorism and civil war. Moyar also points to the American propensity for involvement in the internal affairs of countries of which it knows very little.
With the basic equilibrium of Iraq broken – the unequal balance enforced by the various regimes including that of Saddam Hussein between Kurds, Sunni and Shia – will require strong leadership to repair the damage and make the three groups co-exist in a semblance of harmony. Democracy must wait in such an explosive situation. Moyar offers no magic solutions but warns that we must avoid repeating past mistakes and let internal politics take their natural course while we protect our interests.
December 7, 2006
The Kennedy Assassinations A Veil About to be Lifted?
By ARNO BAKER
The Kennedy Assassinations will not be forgotten. Author Lamar Waldron has published new and startling findings in the paperback edition of his 900 page book Ultimate Sacrifice. His thesis is simple: JFK was assassinated by a Mafia plot that included Carlos Marcello, Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald but the story is complicated by the fact that it intersects with the larger foreign plot created by both Kennedy brothers to overthrow and kill Fidel Castro. The Mafia found out about the coup attempt in Cuba and used its timetable to carry out the president’s assassination.
Bobby Kennedy had been adamant in his pursuit of major Mafia figures, as the record shows. His brother had not been very cautious when he had relations with Frank Sinatra and Judith Campbell Exner who was also the girlfriend of Sam Giancana. Robert Kennedy was gunned down by a mob related assassin Shiran Shiran, a Palestinian immigrant who was connected to Johnny Rosselli according to Waldron’s book.
But RFK was also deeply involved in plots to get rid of Fidel Castro and the connecting threads are all clearly laid out in Waldron’s book. In this new edition Waldron claims that: "We find out from documents that Jack Ruby met with Rosselli just weeks before JFK's assassination, and had met much earlier with Santo Trafficante, and had numerous ties to Carlos Marcello, according to government investigators. Johnny Rosselli, according to his biographers, also claimed to know what had really happened in Dallas, and he had worked with both Trafficante and Marcello."
Rosselli was executed in Miami before he could testify while Trafficante and Marcello died quietly in their bed. Sam Giancana was executed in his home in Chicago before he was to talk to investigators. Millions of documents are still classified by the CIA, the FBI and other agencies as well as the Kennedy family. These papers will surface sooner than expected for historians and researchers to examine. The innumerable unanswered questions relating to Oswald and the Dallas assassination will find a way to surface sooner or later. With Fidel Castro close to the end on his deathbed and most of the protagonists gone from the scene the public will finally end up with the truth about what really happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963.