Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Letter to The Globe and Mail

The following letter was written to Globe and Mail columnist Lysiane Gagnon in response to an inaccurate and misleading article published on October 10, 2010. To date, neither Ms. Gagnon nor editors for the Globe and Mail have responded.

Ms. Gagnon,

Your column in The Globe and Mail, titled "Still waiting, 30 years on" (October 10, 2010), demonstrates a troubling lack of knowledge about crucial factors at work in the extradition case of Dr. Hassan Diab.

To begin with, you note the extradition hearing has experienced “a number of delays” and attribute these, in part, to “disagreement over handwriting evidence submitted by the French investigators”. In fact, the fiasco surrounding France's handwriting evidence has been the single biggest factor accounting for the protracted nature of extradition proceedings against Dr. Diab.

In December 2009, the defence submitted reports from four of the world’s foremost handwriting experts showing the manifest unreliability of France’s handwriting evidence. France waited more than five months—from December 2009 to May 2010—to submit a new expert opinion that seeks to amend the shoddy work of their previous analysts. This new submission was so poorly timed that the court was forced to push back the extradition hearing date by another five months—from June to November 2010. Thus, the lethargic response of French investigators to defence evidence has caused a delay of nearly one year.

This episode reveals that France would have been quite content to achieve extradition based on entirely flawed evidence—evidence that Crown prosecutors have likened to a “smoking gun”. Instead, French authorities were forced to withdraw their shoddy evidence and regroup. Not only is this kind of information crucial to a clear understanding of why efforts to extradite Dr. Diab have met with delays, but it also raises real doubts about the merits of France’s case. By describing this affair as a mere “disagreement” between the prosecution and defence, you provide cover for French investigators and prevent Globe and Mail readers from questioning your assertion that “Mr. Diab should be extradited as soon as possible.”

But without a doubt, the weakest part of your article is your declaration that, “There’s no reason for Canada to show special leniency – there’s no risk of him being mistreated or submitted to an unfair trial, since France’s legal system offers all the guarantees of a democratic country.” Nowhere do you mention the most controversial aspect of Dr. Diab’s case: French reliance upon secret, unsourced intelligence as key evidence to support the extradition request. Acknowledging this fact would certainly complicate claims about the fairness of the French legal system, since secret and unsourced intelligence is inherently unreliable as courtroom evidence.

Two recent reports by Human Rights Watch criticize France’s use of intelligence as evidence and document instances in which evidence derived from torture has been used by the French counterterrorism judiciary to prosecute terrorism suspects (“Preempting Justice: Counterterrorism Laws and Procedures in France”, July 2008; “No Questions Asked: Intelligence Cooperation with Countries that Torture”, June 2010).

Several civil liberties organizations, including the national Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the Civil Liberties Association of the National Capital Region, have voiced grave concerns about the prospect that France’s “key evidence” is secret intelligence that may be the product of torture.

Your article concludes by saying that “It’s a matter of justice for the victims of the attack on rue Copernic that there be at least an honest attempt to identify the perpetrators of this murderous anti-Semitic act.” Yes, but prosecution founded on unsourced secret intelligence and shoddy handwriting analysis is a very far cry from an “honest attempt” to get at the truth.

Frankly, you do your readers a great disservice by omitting these important facts from your article.


Donald J. Pratt
Hassan Diab Support Committee