By Richard Lightbown
French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière was in the news again this week when his embarrassing allegations against the President of Rwanda were laid to rest by a French inquiry. The former head of the French anti-terrorism division is famous for tracking down and capturing Ramírez Sánchez, a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal in 1994. In fact the terrorist and former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was tranquilized and captured by personal bodyguards appointed to him by Sudanese authorities, presumably at the bidding of Bruguière and US intelligence agencies.
Having made his name Bruguière has for more than a decade appeared in major investigations into terrorist attacks worldwide, but with increasing frequency his investigations have seemed to resemble the work of Inspector Clouseau rather than Sam Spade.
In an article in Le Monde in 2001 Pierre Pean accused the judge of massaging his own image as a terrorism investigator and developing hasty and unsound judgements in his rush to apportion blame. Writing about the inflight bombing of UTA Flight 772, which crashed over the Sahara Desert in 1989 with the loss of 171 lives, Pean accused Bruguière of accepting flimsy evidence supplied by US intelligence. This was used to incriminate six Libyans who were subsequently prosecuted and convicted in absentia in Paris in 1999. Central to the evidence was a piece of timer retrieved by FBI agent Tom Thurman, who was eventually suspended from the Bureau in 1997 on suspicion of fabricating evidence. Significantly French police Commissioner Claude Calisti (then considered one of the best explosive experts in the world) could find no trace of explosive on the timer that Thurman had provided. Pean alleges that the suitcase bomb was in fact planted by the Libyan opposition group Mugarief which was linked to Haftar, a militant Chadian group financed by the CIA.
More criticism from the French press followed Judge Bruguière’s investigation into the rocket attack which destroyed the Rwandan presidential plane in 1994, killing both the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and triggering the Tutsi genocide. Francois Schlosser in the Le Nouvel observateur called the judge a judicial lout (voyou judiciaire), pointing out that his allegation that rebel Tutsi forces under General Paul Kagamé were responsible for the rocket attack was the same line of defence used by Hutu defendants at the International War Crimes Tribunal in Rwanda, who denied the occurrence of the genocide and presented themselves as victims of external aggression. In arriving at this highly contentious conclusion Bruguière had not bothered to visit Rwanda but had based his evidence largely on the testimony of disaffected Tutsi refugees who had fled the repressive regime of now President Kagamé. Undeterred by diplomatic niceties, Bruguière proceeded to issue international arrest warrants in 2006 for six Rwandan government officials for trial in France, and was apparently only prevented from indicting Kagamé by the fact that as head of state he was immune from prosecution (even by a former colonial power).
This caused outrage in Rwanda where memories of French collaboration, if not involvement, in the Hutu genocide are still fresh amongst the ruling Tutsi government. The Rwandan government promptly broke diplomatic relations with France and closed the embassy. Diplomatic ties were only re-established in 2009, and waning French influence in the whole of the African Great Lakes region has been severely impaired by the Wild West tactics of the Magnum-packing voyou judiciaire.
Meanwhile a second inquiry was set up under the more sober and professional leadership of Bruguière’s former assistant, Marc Trévidic. The new chief investigating magistrate took a team of experts to Kigali to conduct investigations on site along with interviews from key individuals who had not been examined during the first inquiry. This is the study that on Tuesday exonerated Kagamé’s forces of the Rwandan Popular Front (now the Rwandan army) and plunged Bruguière (who already faces civil suits for false testimony and obstruction of justice) into even greater ignominy. Two other of his politically sensitive investigations (the killing of seven French monks in Algeria in 1996, and the 2002 bombing in Karachi which killed 11 French naval engineers) are also being re-examined following suspicions that he may have omitted important evidence.
Yet despite his reluctance to visit Rwanda, Bruguière is not averse to travel and in July 2010 the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that he arrived for his first visit to Israel as a guest of the Foreign Ministry. Less than two months after the massacre on the Mavi Marmara it is unlikely to have been a coincidence that the judge is a fierce critic of the IHH. Perhaps the claims by Israeli’s Danish ambassador that Israel Defence Forces had only attacked the Freedom Flotilla after receiving reports of links to Al-Qaeda were too far-fetched even by the standards of Israel’s MFA. So Bruguière was brought in to air his claims that he concluded in 1996 that IHH was a terror organization. (It was at his instigation that the Turkish authorities raided the charity’s headquarters in Istanbul that year, allegedly finding weapons, explosives and forged documents. In a subsequent court case the defendants were acquitted of all charges.) Asked about the current status of IHH, Bruguière supplied no evidence for his reckless assertion that :
“I don’t have updated information but it is hard to believe they changed. In my opinion, they are continuing on the same track we uncovered a decade and a half ago”.
Bruguière’s selective use of facts may eventually discredit him. This now seems quite likely. But his legacy will live a bit longer yet. Pro-Zionist lobbies and media will see to that. In the BBC Panorama’s bogus account of the raid on the Freedom Flotilla, ‘Death in the Med’, Jane Corbin could not resist the opportunity to besmirch a Muslim charity working efficiently for people of all faiths around the world. She said:
“The IHH isn’t just known for their humanitarian work. Western authorities have accused them of having links to terrorist organisations. They strongly deny this.”
The devil here is in the lack of detail. No Western authority is specified, perhaps because Israel is the only country in the world to ban IHH as a terrorist organisation. Even then it has only done so since 2008. While Lt-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, then former Israeli Chief of the General Staff, told the Turkel Commission (according to the English version protocol) that IHH “was not defined as a terror organization […] It has not been legally declared as a terror organization”.
For the Whitewash Department at the BBC Trust this was not a problem because it still had a French judge to fall back on for support of Ms Corbin’s snide assertion. Also, despite it being pointed out to the Trust that Dr Even Kohlmann’s much quoted working paper on Islamic charities and terrorism funding has based its entire allegations against IHH on a paper by Jean-Louis Bruguière and Jean-Francois Ricard, the Trust still felt able to quote this secondary source in justification. (While of course a humanitarian working relationship with the elected government of Gaza is seen as a link with to a terrorist organization, as was the fact that one only IHH employee on the Mavi Marmara was a former convicted terrorist who now works as a humanitarian activist.) It did not seem to worry anyone at the BBC that Panorama’s programme was so useful to the Israeli narrative that the MFA hyperlinked the entire programme to its website.
Bruguière now looks like a spent force, and the world is probably a little better now that French counter-terrorist investigations deal more with facts than flights of fancy. But for the BBC and other such media outlets this is unlikely to present a problem. For the genuine investigative journalists Bruguière’s work has been dubious for years. For the charlatans at Panorama who claimed to tell the real story of the flotilla there will always be a Bruguière to justify the fabrication they next want to sell.
Richard Lightbown is a writer and researcher. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.