October 30th, 2006

Hand round the refreshments: the Lurçat trial (Part I)


Here’s Alice, called as a witness at the trial of the Knave of Hearts in Wonderland (otherwise known as France—minus the jury, that is):

What do you know about this business? the King said to Alice.

Nothing, said Alice.

Nothing WHATEVER? persisted the King.

Nothing whatever, said Alice.

That’s very important, the King said, turning to the jury. They were just beginning to write this down on their slates, when the White Rabbit interrupted: UNimportant, your Majesty means, of course, he said in a very respectful tone, but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke.

UNimportant, of course, I meant, the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, important—unimportant—unimportant—important–as if he were trying which word sounded best.

Some of the jury wrote it down important, and some unimportant. Alice could see this, as she was near enough to look over their slates; but it doesn’t matter a bit, she thought to herself.

Why am I so incensed over the second France 2 trial, when the verdict hasn’t even been rendered yet? And why am I close to certain that I know what the verdict will be (hint: the same as the first trial—victory for France 2), although I’d be happy to be proven wrong?

Remember, the issues in this trial are enormous: a famous journalist disseminates a story that’s seen around the world, complete with inflammatory photos derived from the video. The story and photos spark many retaliatory murders in the name of the martyred boy. Although many other photographers are present that day at the spot where the event is alleged to have happened, the story is substantiated only by a single tape filmed by France 2′s Palestinian stringer Talal (journalist Enderlin was not present). The video doesn’t show what it purports to show, although the journalist alleges that it did. Later, forensic evidence contradicts what the journalist has claimed.

Now that same journalist and his state-run TV station are suing three French citizens who have accused them—rather mildly, at that, by internet standards—of lying.

One would think these trials ought to take more time and effort than the run-of-the-mill traffic violation. And in fact, they have—but just a little bit more. Each case so far has lasted just a few hours.

That is peculiar, to say the least. I’ve been told that in France trials tend to be much shorter than in the US (where, if truth be told, many of them are too long). But the facts of this case, and its importance, should certainly have dictated far more attention and care than I saw demonstrated in that Palais de Justice courtroom last Tuesday. And, in fact, a run-of-the-mill traffic case in the US does generate more attention and care than I saw in that French courtroom.

For example, the head judge (who happened to resemble Dennis Miller with a two-day growth of stubble—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing) announced early on that, although witness Richard Landes had been slated to show a videotape, this particular courtroom wasn’t equipped with a functioning video player, and so it wouldn’t be shown.

Oh, yeah; whatever.

My Eurocentric trolls probably won’t like me for making the following contention (but they don’t like me anyway, so what the hey?), but it’s my impression that in the dinkiest courtroom in the smallest podunk town in the USA, if something like that were to happen, a functioning machine would either be obtained or the court would adjourn until one could be located.

But that was only the tip of the iceberg. I’m certainly not an expert in French law, and I only had a chance to ask a few questions of the lawyer after the trial, but the whole issue of evidence seems to be a very lax one in the French system. In other words, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of attention paid to evidence at all.

Nor to logic, actually. The whole thing played like a version of “he said, she said,” only with nifty costumes—black robes and white cravats for the judges and lawyers. blue T-shirts for the gun-toting gendarmes.

The trial opened with the judge describing the charges, ascertaining that the defendant was indeed whom he purported to be, and stating the supposedly defamatory words. So far, so good.

The defendant was Pierre Lurçat, 39, a Frenchman who is a Jerusalem resident. Lurçat is the president of an organization called “Liberty, Democracy, and Judaism,” and is listed as the legal operator of a Web site, www.liguededefensejuive.com, that urged readers in 2002 to demonstrate against “the lies of France 2,” suggesting that France 2 and Charles Enderlin be given an award for disinformation.

Unlike Karsenty, who’d been a presence at his defamation trial (the first one, a month ago), Lurçat didn’t attend. Neither Enderlin nor any representative of France 2 has been at either trial, and I doubt they’ll go to the third one, either.

Perhaps Lurçat had read the writing on the wall from Karsenty’s trial where, despite the recommendation of the special court reporter (a figure in French courts who represents the interests of the people) that the court find for Karsenty, the judges took the unusual step of going against her suggestion. At any rate, not only was Lurçat a no-show, but one of his defenses appeared to be that he hadn’t actually written the words in question on his website; someone else had.

Richard Landes, who is one of the few people outside of France 2 who’s seen Talal’s tape, testified for the defense, based on his study of the al-Durah incident (you can see some of his reasoning at his blog and his website, if you’re not already familiar with his work).

Although the plaintiff’s lawyer asked not a single question of Landes (she appeared, rather, to be engaged mostly in admiring her own nifty high-heeled black boots during his testimony–I had a good view of her from behind and across the rather small courtroom), the head judge seemed to perk up during it. The judge actually showed some affect then—something I hadn’t seen him demonstrate till that moment. He seemed interested and concerned.

Perhaps he was merely concerned with the fact that the trial was already lasting longer than he wanted it to. But perhaps he was genuinely interested. and genuinely distressed by what he was hearing: missing footage, no blood when the child was supposedly shot, no bullets shown from the Israeli position.

In the first trial, this sort of judicial interest (on the part of a different judge) had been taken by many of Karsenty’s supporters to actually mean something in terms of the decision. But this time no one was that naive.

The prosecutor called not a single witness, nor did she ask one question of either of the two witnesses called by the defense, the second of whom was French journalist Luc Rosenzweig. The witnesses in this courtroom were required to stand and face the judges, so the audience was unable to see their faces from the front. But I was impressed nevertheless by Rosenzweig’s controlled outrage. Rosenzweig, a man in his early sixties who is a former chief editor of Le Monde, fairly vibrated with contempt for what Enderlin and France 2 had done, were doing, and might do again.

My sense is that some of his sense of outrage came from the fact that he thinks they have defamed the honor of journalism. He mentioned that Enderlin’s acts—lying about what was in Talal’s rushes, refusing to disclaim footage that even Enderlin himself had privately admitted was mostly staged–go against journalistic ethics.

Rosenzweig, like Landes, happens to be one of the few people on earth outside of France 2 employees who have seen the Talal tapes. The court, of course, didn’t see fit to count itself among them; shockingly, the tapes have been released neither to the court nor to the public.

I could not get a straight answer from anyone as to how the trial was able to proceed without the court or the defense compelling a viewing of the tapes. But perhaps the attitude towards the missing/broken video machine is a clue—the French court simply does not care about evidence, the mainstay of our legal system What does it care about? As best I can tell: power, prestige, and reputation; and saving time, money, and effort.

It’s a bit like another of my favorite trials (the source of the excerpt that began this post): that of the Knave of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, where Alice muses at the outset: I wish they’d get the trial done, and hand round the refreshments!

One of the highlights of the trial—in fact, it may have been the highlight of the trial for me—was when Rosenzweig snorted, “I’ve said a lot worse [than Lurçat did] about Enderlin lying, and he never went after me! Enderlin lied repeatedly in the affair.” Rosenzweig was emphasizing not only that Enderlin is a liar, but that Enderlin and France 2 have been very careful in their choice of targets; I think I’m safe in predicting that they’ll not be coming after Rosenzweig next.

No, it’s pretty clear they want these trials to remain low profile—and in fact, until now, they have.

[Part II here.]

22 Responses to “Hand round the refreshments: the Lurçat trial (Part I)”

  1. Good Ole Charlie Says:

    Neo:

    Remember that “French Culture” from the beginning always supports and has always supported the centralized French state.

    Otherwise, it wouldn’t be allowed to exist.

    France itself is a parody of “Pa’Pere Knows Best, Eh?”. As a nation, France is never so happy as when under the paternalistic rule of a monarch. Sometime the monarch is a monarch (Louis XIV) and sometimes a military figure (Napoleon or De Gaulle): but the principle is the same:

    “Daddy Will Take Care Of You, Enfant”

    The legal system reflects this desire…”Bon Nuit, Ma Petite.”

    A bas La France.

  2. PJ Nasser Says:

    No, it’s pretty clear they want these trials to remain low profile–and in fact, until now, they have.

    They like it to be quiet until they win and then it’s all over the place.

    Thanks for your coverage.

  3. Bill Says:

    Remember the Maine and consider what it means if a non-guilty verdict is sent through. France 2 becomes morally liable for incitement. I don’t think that would be in the “best interest” of the Republic, nor will that stop the al-Dura imagery being used. I support the defense and strongly oppose these trials at all levels. But I’m not naive enough to think that real justice will come of it.

  4. Cappy Says:

    Bill -
    France and moral in the same sentence? Very funny.

  5. strcpy Says:

    “Remember the Maine and consider what it means if a non-guilty verdict is sent through. France 2 becomes morally liable for incitement.”

    That’s seems like a good thing to me – since their intentional lie *did* cause someone(s) to die.

    I would also say it is in the best interest of the republic to *stop* this kinda thing from happening. That is why one would have such a law.

    Why have a law that will never be enforced (it will never be in the best interest to hold them liable)? One just might as well get rid of the whole thing, condone the lieing, and make the de facto state de jure.

    Of course, this is just moral grandstanding – an attempt to look good while maintaining you own corrupt power.

  6. Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) Says:

    Bush should make the national motto “The United States: Still freer than France!” Watching the firestorm from that would amuse me greatly.

  7. Isaiah Hunahun Says:

    I just came from the 4th part of an 8-part series of discussion panels on the recent war between Hezbollah and Israel. This final session completed the Lebanese point of view and the next four will cover discussions from the Israeli point of view. Many very sad and tragic eyewitness stories were heard and it is fortunate when we have the opportunity to hear from all sides. As neophyte neo-cons we are apt to be more open-minded as we are ex-Liberals, thoughtful critical thinkers as opposed to the corollary responses we hear from the so-called Christian right and the loony left. May I ask the group to give some thoughts and clarification to the following?

    >>> More than 100,000 Lebanese civilians were killed?

    >>> More than half of these were children?

    >>> Southern Lebanon soil samples have tested positive for radioactive contamination?

    >>> Southern Lebanon is littered with unexploded cluster bombs?

    >> Why were positions targeted not occupied by Hezbollah? What immediately came to mind here was how do you know it wasn’t Hezbollah targeting non-combatant positions in Lebanon . . . duh.

    >> Why were truckers delivering wheat, vegetables, and fuel targeted? Well what immediately came to mind here was those things are also needed by the Hezbollah/Khomeini militias . . . duh.

    People were to emotional for me to ask these questions – and when you are a non-tenured faculty, you really don’t want to just piss off your colleagues. Overall, their was at least some condemnation of both Israel and Hezbollah, a little for more for the former I felt – a bit of displaced rage from what squarely should be placed on Hezbollah. In a nutshell . . . Just a quick diversion before returning back to Neo’s thread topic :

  8. harry Says:

    “For example, the head judge… announced early on that, although witness Richard Landes had been slated to show a videotape, this particular courtroom wasn’t equipped with a functioning video player, and so it wouldn’t be shown.”

    That, sounds like France in a nut shell and illustrates for me what France has become. Decayed, decrepit, debauched and debilitated. How is it Im not surprised? How fitting an image.

    The VHS player is on the self in the closet next to some broken hunk of machinery labeled: “National Honor & Prestige”. That broke down back in the early 1860′s and hasnt been looked at since.

  9. Barry Meislin Says:

    You see, if we slander Israel sufficiently (i.e., early and often), then we’re off the hook. We’ll dodge the Moslem bullet. We’ll show ‘em we’re on the right side, that we’re not afraid to take the moral stance in the face of Jewish, or Zionist, or whatever, power and influence. We’re not afraid of either Jews or Zionists. Or their American puppets, no sirree.

    Got that? We speak truth to power. (And even if it’s false, at least it’s accurate.)

    Well, good luck, France.
    Good luck, Britain.
    Good luck, Europe.
    Good luck, World.

  10. strcpy Says:

    “>>> More than 100,000 Lebanese civilians were killed?”

    I don’t know. Can you give a cite for this? Without it I can not comment. It may be higher, it may be lower. Given the Hizbollah used civilians as human shields it wouldn’t surprise me.

    “>>> More than half of these were children?”

    See the answer above. Children make even better human shields.

    “>>> Southern Lebanon soil samples have tested positive for radioactive contamination?”

    Umm – ok? What are you saying? A dirty bomb, a nuclear bomb, Hizbollah has a nuclear device? If you think a dirty bomb or a nuclear bomb then I would say that my listening to you just stopped. Not because I do not think it is possible to use one, but that is the *least* test of them – millions dead and a large area uninhabitable for a few decades would be the main ones. I also do not think Hizbollah is anywhere close to a nuclear bomb either.

    “>>> Southern Lebanon is littered with unexploded cluster bombs?”

    Probably land mines also. That happens in a modern war zone. Next time do not kidnap Israeli soldiers and do not fire rockets across your border.

    “>> Why were positions targeted not occupied by Hezbollah? What immediately came to mind here was how do you know it wasn’t Hezbollah targeting non-combatant positions in Lebanon . . . duh.”

    Again, I need a citation. I know Hizbollah said this often, but that isn’t enough. There could be many reasons (I’m sure it happened from time to time) – faulty intelligence, human error, faulty electronics to name a few. I need to see it was widespread first, otherwise it was an isolated incident and that happens. Your answer may also be acceptable.

    “>> Why were truckers delivering wheat, vegetables, and fuel targeted? Well what immediately came to mind here was those things are also needed by the Hezbollah/Khomeini militias . . . duh.”

    You answered your own question there.

    Ultimately you have on one side a group that is oppressive. You say and do what they want or you die a horrible death. On the other you have a free media and free citizenry. For some reason many on the west tend to believe the totalitarian violent govt over the other. Of course, that is hard to counter, “You are a bunch of lieing liars” isn’t much a defense, and the totalitarian violent govt can ensure that you only see one side. See the Soviet Union (specifically right before their fall) for a great example.

  11. loikll Says:

    Maybe the evidence tape was a Betamax!

    Anyway, fun reading but I hardly understand your surprise and indignation. This is France. Their legal system didn’t evolve from English common law, and they don’t abide by the US constitution. By American standards, French citizens do not possess freedom of speech, and they certainly do not have American style liberty or protections in many many ways.

    And they’re too ignorant and insular to even understand that.

    It’s another country. The rest of continental Europe is just about the same, as I understand. All we Americans can hope or expect from Europeans is that they don’t ignite world wars or commit genocide anymore.

    It ain’t America. One of many reason I’d never condescend to live there myself.

  12. Ranba Ral Says:

    The courts’ actions are not really surprising given that the concept of “Guilty until proven innocent” is called the Napoleonic Code.

  13. goesh Says:

    -Frogs…..

  14. b Says:

    “PERHAPS THE most distinguishing group characteristic of the Palestinians is the fact that no matter what they do or say, they never have to pay a price for the choices they make. In spite of their blackmail, threats and corruption, their war for the annihilation of Israel, and perhaps above all, their mocking contempt for the collective honor of Israel and the West, the Palestinians’ victims line up to support them in their “just struggle against the illegal Zionist occupation.” – Caroline Glick

    Emulating Hizballah, Hamas Launches Satellite TV Station

    … “The satellite broadcasts will allow Hamas to disseminate its radical messages not only among target audiences in the Palestinian Authority administered territories, but also throughout the entire Arab world and even among Arab/Muslim communities in South European countries, which fall within the broadcasting range,”

    The Moral Difference

  15. Steve Rosenbach Says:

    to Isaiah Hunahun:

    Please don’t go spreading such obviously distorted “facts” around the blogosphere. If these statements were unchallanged in your discussion panels, then the legitimacy of those panels must be called into question.

    Just think – “100,000 Lebanese killed” – so this is more than were killed by Allied bombing raids of Dresden, Cologne, and several other cities combined. Bear in mind that these were raids dropping dozens of bombs from each bomber, and hundreds of bombers in each wave, that went on for several days and nights each.

    “Southern Lebanon soil samples … radioactive contamination” – this is just the same old depleted uranium (DU) canard that’s been going on against the US and Israel for decades. First of all, DU does not cause these effects, and second, I doubt the Israelis used any DU in this war, as DU is mostly for anti-tank use.

    Which organization(s) sponsored these discussion panels? I will bet money that if you let us know, a little Googling will immediately reveal a substantial bias.

  16. Isaiah Hunahun Says:

    People who run hospitals and people on death row have no moral equivalence, none. Q: Are you with the Kurds, Israelis, pro-Democracy Iraqis, seeking a free and peace democratic existence? Or are you with the Khomeini proxies and militants, Wahhabis, ex-Baathist, and other psychopathic nihilist. If you don’t like war stepping on the innocent people of the Middle East then direct your rage on the Radical Mullahs, Hezbollah, Hamas and all the rest. And for all this you may still die under Israeli, American, or anyone’s bombs – welcome to the world we’re inherited, and welcome to the world that will not be fixed in one day, but over many many many generations to come. Some people in the Iron Age wanted air conditioning. It simply was not a time for them and no amount of screaming and crying was going to get it. Teach your children to be fair and critical thinkers – tomorrow will need as many as she can get.

  17. Isaiah Hunahun Says:

    Steve Rosenbach and strcpy,

    Sheesh — Well, I tried.

  18. Tatterdemalian Says:

    “Please don’t go spreading such obviously distorted “facts” around the blogosphere. If these statements were unchallanged in your discussion panels, then the legitimacy of those panels must be called into question.”

    I think that was his point. Personally, I favor spreading such information around the blogosphere, because if said panel is really that biased, it is an important thing to know.

    Though a direct transcript with full attributions would be better.

  19. unknown blogger Says:

    Re the broken videotape. Outrageous indeed. But you go off the cliff here:

    …it’s my impression that in the dinkiest courtroom in the smallest podunk town in the USA, if something like that were to happen, a functioning machine would either be obtained or the court would adjourn until one could be located.

    Come on. This from the woman who proclaims “I so love to do research”?

    Once again Neo, your “impression” is just plain wrong.

    “Some of the courtrooms are not even courtrooms: tiny offices or basement rooms without a judge’s bench or jury box. Sometimes the public is not admitted, witnesses are not sworn to tell the truth, and there is no word-for-word record of the proceedings.

    But serious things happen in these little rooms all over New York State. People have been sent to jail without a guilty plea or a trial, or tossed from their homes without a proper proceeding. In violation of the law, defendants have been refused lawyers, or sentenced to weeks in jail because they cannot pay a fine. Frightened women have been denied protection from abuse.”

    Nothing “Eurocentric” or “Blame America First” about it, the world just doesn’t operate in the kind of moral absolutes you seem to like to deal in.

    Just like in today’s article: “Oh my, can you believe those awful liberals have actually demonized Republicans?” Can you believe they have made Bush supporters “the enemy”?? Isn’t that just shameful???”

    As if it would never occur to the virtuous and always fair Republicans to do such a thing.

    You know, the “If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists” Republicans, the “If you’re against the war in Iraq you are helping the terrorists” Republicans…

    I find it curious that you sort of glossed over one aspect that I thought you would give more attention to. Suppose you had one of those troubled “political mixed marriages” come to you for professional help. How would you proceed?

  20. neo-neocon Says:

    unknown blogger: You certainly managed to misread and misunderstand today’s post. And obviously, I was speaking of the regular court system when I made my statement about the video machine, and I stand by it.

    However, that said, the article you linked to about the parallel system of small town “justice” courts in NY and other states is certainly a disturbing one. Although these “justice courts” (a phrase that appears to be an oxymoron) seem to mostly deal with traffic violations, they should be abolished or reformed.

    As for your question about marital counseling for a couple who disagree about politics, the approach would be the same as in any marital dispute or problem, and it would depend on the dynamics of the particular couple. Political disputes shouldn’t require some unique apprach.

  21. jgr Says:

    You know, the “If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists” Republicans, the “If you’re against the war in Iraq you are helping the terrorists” Republicans…

    There are many of like that, anonymous. All Americans.

  22. unknown blogger Says:

    neo, sorry, I’m just reading what you wrote, which I believe was something like…

    “but it’s my impression that in the dinkiest courtroom in the smallest podunk town in the USA…”

    And if you had read past the third paragraph of the Justice courts article, which reads:

    “In the public imagination, they are quaint holdovers from a bygone era, handling nothing weightier than traffic tickets and small claims.”

    you would would know that they deal in much more than “traffic violations”:

    [A mother of four] went to court seeking an order of protection against her husband, who the police said had choked her, kicked her in the stomach and threatened to kill her. The justice, Donald R. Roberts, a former state trooper with a high school diploma, not only refused, according to state officials, but later told the court clerk, “Every woman needs a good pounding every now and then.”

    Though the justices’ pay is often meager — as little as $850 a year — they can set bail, a basic legal safeguard. They hold crucial preliminary hearings in felony cases and conduct trials on misdemeanors. They preside over civil cases with claims of up to $3,000, and landlord-tenant disputes with no dollar limit, including commercial cases involving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    I will grant you one thing though, it’s much more fun to trash France than read about this stuff…

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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