..and they don’t grind all that fine, either.
But grind they do.
Regular readers of this blog may remember that about a year ago I had the exciting opportunity of traveling to Paris to cover one of the France2 defamation trials (my posts on the subject can be found by going to the right sidebar under “Categories” and clicking on “Paris and France2 trial” for the links).
These trials featured the interesting spectacle of a government-owned TV station, France2, suing ordinary citizens and bloggers who had accused the station and its renowned correspondent Charles Enderlin of lying in their coverage of the al Durah incident of 2000. It was the equivalent of Dan Rather suing Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs for accusing him of presenting forgeries in the Killian memo controversy (and speaking of Dan Rather suing, take a look at this).
“French justice” in defamation cases may be somewhat of an oxymoron. Between its rules of evidence (spotty), its attention to detail (nonexistent), its burden of proof (on the defendent), and its respect for entrenched power and reputation (astronomical), it’s easy to see why France 2 and Enderlin were so cocky in bringing a suit that in this country wouldn’t stand a chance.
Why care? In the US the al Durah incident was not nearly as influential as it was in Europe (see also this and this), where it greatly intensified an already anti-Israel climate and sparked support for the violent excesses of the Palestinians’ Second Intifada. The France2 footage and stills were used in terrorist and Islamicist totalitarian propaganda around the world, including the video made of Daniel Pearl’s beheading. The incident and attendant publicity solidified the idea that Israeli soldiers are a brutal lot intent on killing innocent Palestinian children.
But the evidence is nearly overwhelming that the video is a fake, and and that the child—if killed at all—was not killed by IDF fire, either purposely or even accidentally. Independent investigators have said as much (see this and this) and the select few outside of France 2 who have seen the raw video footage have all concluded it does not show what France 2 and Enderlin purport (see this, for example).
The France 2 videotape is the linchpin of the case, the most vital evidence available. And yet, shockingly, only a few people not connected to France 2 have been able to view it, and the French court is not one of them. Why? Until now, the judges haven’t appeared interested; after all, why let a little evidence get in the way of a good decision?
Three private citizens had been sued for defamation by France 2 and Enderlin. The first, Philippe Karsenty, was convicted. The second, Lurçat, whose trial I covered, got off on a technicality, while the third, Gouz, received something called a “mitigated judgment” for using the word “misinformation” on his blog in relation to France 2 (a rather mild accusation, you might agree, especially for the blogosphere, but actionable in France nonetheless).
But now comes the astounding news that in Karsenty’s appeal case the court has done the unthinkable and ordered France 2 to produce the tapes for viewing.
Since everyone independent of France 2 who has seen these tapes alleges that they fail to show what France 2 has said they show—the terrible death throes of the boy, too devastating for viewing—and that what they actually show is staged scenes, people strolling past unperturbed, no blood, bullet holes incompatible with having been fired from the Israeli position, and the boy al Durah raising his head and looking around after he is supposedly dead, this should be interesting.
Why the change of heart on the part of the French court? I don’t know, but here are my guesses. First, the Israeli Army has requested release of the full videotapes from France 2 and has tied this to Karsenty’s Appellate case (see the text of the letter, here). In the earlier Karsenty trial, the court had cited Israel’s supposed failure to challenge the tapes (incorrectly; see paragraph 12 here) as evidence that the footage could not be false.
The second change is the election of Nicholas Sarkozy as President of France. In Karsenty’s first trial, practically the only “evidence” the prosecution mounted—or, apparently, felt it needed to mount—was a letter from the esteemed President of France, Jacques Chirac, stating his admiration for the esteemed Charles Enderlin. Somehow I doubt that Sarkozy will be quite as obliging.
Although the entire trial is pretty much off the radar screen of the MSM—who perhaps would dearly love to have the same privilege to sue bloggers accorded the press in France—the issues involved are profound.