Monday, October 12, 2009

Democracy Quietly Eroding

By Rachel Anjorin

My friend, Hassan Diab, is innocent of the charges. None of the accusations against him fits with anything I know about him. In fact, they run completely counter to everything I know about him. Hassan and I met in the late 1980's and have been friends ever since.

I watch with much pain and concern as the case against my friend unfolds, particularly in the press and the so-called court of public opinion. I see the media’s misrepresentations, sometimes subtle, sometimes glaring, the reaction of anonymous “commentators” in the echo chamber of anonymity on the Internet, and I worry that in the end we are sacrificing our democratic ideals on the alter of “national security”. Terrorism is a scary thing. I’m certainly not pretending otherwise. However, I see a man I am certain is innocent being caught under the wheels of a machine driven by fear, phobias, and perhaps even political agendas.

The first signs of bias made themselves apparent to Hassan and those around him long before the case ever came to the Canadian media’s attention. It started about a year before his arrest. The surveillance conducted by shadowy tough guys driving around in cruisers with dark windows became so brazen that it was obviously meant to intimidate, harass, and perhaps even provoke. Imagine being followed throughout your day, reporting it to the police repeatedly, and seeing nothing change. Any sane person would begin to think the fix must be in, especially if you had been approached by a French journalist asking you questions about some terrorist attack that happened in Europe almost 30 years ago. If that’s not bad enough, imagine catching someone breaking into your apartment, and then spotting that same person among your watchers. At some point you’ve got to wonder if there’s a bull’s eye painted on your back. So much for the presumption of innocence.

Then came the charges and the SWAT team raid - serious, sudden, including the dreaded word “terrorism”. Reactions? Some believe charges alone are enough evidence of guilt. “They must have had a reason to charge him or he wouldn’t have been arrested.” Not necessarily. This case consists of a few disconnected strands of “evidence” that are pieced together with dollops of intelligence from secret sources whose credibility will not be testable in court.

The French have concocted a convoluted and contradictory scenario to tie Hassan to the crime. That files for a case based on 29-year-old evidence would be sealed is nothing short of bewildering. All the more baffling—and no less disappointing—is the way the press has never really bothered to look at the court papers THEY successfully fought to unseal, and which have been gathering dust for nearly a year now. If the French had any trepidation about sharing the “facts of the case” with the media, they soon learned they had little to worry about. In lieu of doing their homework, journalists up to now have shown a disturbing tendency to take the path of least resistance and glide along with prevailing public opinion and prejudices, ignoring complexities and inconsistencies in favor of superficial analysis expressed in terms of a banal “terrorism” discourse.

Anyone willing to take some time to do a little digging will discover that the “terrorist” label the French have tried to apply to Dr. Diab blends inchoate ideas about terrorism spanning generations and eras. This alone should give the alert reader reason to pause and consider whether logic, parsimony, and even common sense may have been cast to the wind.

France would have preferred to spirit Hassan away in the darkness of a media blackout to prolonged pretrial detention in France followed by a trial presided over by a special tribunal of anti-terror magistrates who rely on arcane French law and court martial efficiency to achieve astonishingly high conviction rates. In truth, this process has more to do with flexing state power at the expense of individual rights and scoring easy points by pandering to public opinion. This process also dishonors France’s own democratic traditions while sidestepping international obligations regarding the inviolability of human rights and fidelity to procedural justice.

I urge readers to do a little research and carefully consider all the information available in the case against Dr. Hassan Diab. All the facts considered together point away from Hassan as a suspect.