Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Conclusion in Search of Facts

By Rachel Anjorin

This essay details numerous instances in which French investigators have spared no effort to pin the 1980 Rue Copernic attack on Dr. Hassan Diab, no matter how much evidence they find showing he is an innocent man. Rather than let the facts of the case lead them to a logical conclusion, French investigators have cherry picked information, ignored a wealth of evidence that points away from Hassan as a suspect, and even changed their theory of the crime to fit a preconceived conclusion.

Modifying the Suspect's Profile. The French investigation regarding the 1980 Rue Copernic attack was leaked to the media in October 2007. A French journalist approached Dr. Diab to inform him about the pending allegations against him. The journalist inquired repeatedly whether Hassan is a Palestinian. When Hassan, who is a Lebanese, insisted he is not, the reporter expressed surprise as the investigation files, to which the reporter had been given access, have identified Hassan as a Palestinian.

The fact that Hassan is not Palestinian should have alerted French investigators to the fact that he's not the man they think he is. Instead, French investigators chose to modify the suspect's profile to match their target. The misidentification of Hassan as Palestinian was so deep-seated that it continued to be widely reported in the media for more than two years after Hassan’s encounter with the French journalist. In the official case against Hassan, the French investigators changed their description of the Rue Copernic hit team so that it reads that a group of five Palestinians had participated in the attack and that one of these men was a Lebanese.

Mix-and-match Suspect Features. Descriptions of the Rue Copernic suspect vary tremendously regarding every feature, from age (20 to 45 years), build (very thin to rather stocky), ethnicity (European to Arab), hair length (long, medium, short) and hair color (blond, brown, black) to the presence or absence of facial hair, glasses, and so on. The wide variation in the descriptions of the suspect should be enough to discredit them, since any subset of these characteristics can be matched to a large portion of the general population. Apparently, French investigators are at liberty to mix and match features from these varied descriptions to fit their preferred suspect.

Scribbling Scandalously Mishandled. France has as evidence five block letter style words printed on a hotel registration card in Paris purportedly by the bomber himself. Investigators compared those words to samples of Hassan’s handwriting while a student at Syracuse University. Two French handwriting analysts claimed a match between the samples and the hotel registration card. Unbeknownst to French investigators, Hassan's ex-wife had done much of the writing on the samples. Remarkably, only one of the French analysts noticed the two writing styles, which look very different. In a breathtaking departure from reason, the analyst concluded that Hassan is masterfully skilled at changing his writing style. Both French handwriting analysts found a match where it was impossible to find one, thereby entirely undermining their own credibility. Once the defense pointed out these appalling flaws in the French handwriting reports, French investigators reacted by delaying court proceedings for more than five months, further prolonging Hassan’s state of house arrest. Eventually, the two handwriting reports were withdrawn in their entirety and a “fresh” handwriting report was submitted. This “new” report is expected to fare no better than the first two. (Attend court in December 2010, to learn more about this.)

Militant Mannequin. French investigators assert that Hassan bears a “strong resemblance” to sketches of the suspected bomber. The three sketches, built up from widely varying descriptions of the suspect, are generic, “modal” images of the same face made up in three different “costumes” (hair, moustache, etc.). The images are so unremarkable and common that they look like a mannequin dressed up in a variety of wigs. This is what happens when a large variety of perceptions (as in the witness descriptions) are blended. You end up with a muddy composite. The mere assertion that the sketches bear a resemblance to Hassan appears to be powerful “evidence” for French investigators, despite the fact that the sketches do not even correspond to the varied descriptions of the suspect.

Playing Games with Names. According to French investigators, the suspects in the Copernic bombing were named. This claim is based on Israeli intelligence and information from French journalists working in Beirut during the Civil War. Neither source lists Hassan as a suspect. Apparently, French investigators are free to substitute at will, inserting Hassan wherever they want to put him, and dropping other names from the list of suspects.

Ten More Reasons Why the Case is Wrong. In addition to 24/7 GPS monitoring (which must be paid for by Hassan), curfews, and other strict bail conditions, Hassan must appear in person at the RCMP office on a weekly basis. On one of these occasions (November 2009), Hassan was detained temporarily to have his fingertip prints taken to be compared with fingertip prints found on the document signed by the suspect. A year has passed without the court being notified regarding the results. The Crown Attorneys have recently acknowledged that Hassan’s fingertip prints do not match those on the document signed by the suspect. However, they argued that the French investigators are under no obligation to disclose this exculpatory evidence. This evidence was again simply abandoned because it indicated once again that Hassan is not the guy they really want. There are likely many more examples of exonerating evidence that Hassan will never hear about, much less use in his own defense, because according to the Crown Attorneys Canada’s Extradition Law allows the requesting state to bury evidence that doesn't work out for them.

French investigators have started with a conclusion. Rather than let the facts carry them to a logical conclusion, French investigators have gone off in search of “facts” to support their conclusion. Along the way, they have ignored and omitted a great deal of inconvenient information. The French case looks very much like a conclusion in search of facts rather than the other way around. “Evidence” has been invented, derived, and backfilled when supporting facts failed to surface. It must be quite a challenge for French investigators to hold at bay the tide of evidence running counter to their preconceived conclusion. Perhaps by now they have even come to realize (subconsciously, perhaps) that they are after the wrong man.

Sadly and unfairly, the Canadian extradition process is not designed to take into account the mountain of exonerating evidence. The legal process is driven by whatever information the French investigators choose to keep within the four corners of a document known as the Record of Case. The French investigators and the Canadian Crown Attorneys representing them remain single-mindedly focused on the task of getting Hassan to France, no matter how clear it is that they are barking up the wrong tree. If French investigators had applied a fraction of the same zeal to an objective investigation, they might have apprehended the real bomber by now. This would also respect the memory of the Rue Copernic victims.

As unfair as the Canadian extradition process is for Hassan, it pales in comparison to what he will face if extradited to France. French anti-terrorism courts have a documented track record of accepting secret intelligence as evidence, even when it is known to be the product of torture. In addition, it is most unlikely that Hassan will be granted permission by the court in France to bring his own experts to challenge the “evidence” against him or wage any meaningful defence. The privileged position the magistrate occupies within the French legal system means that once he closes the dossier and hands it to the prosecutor there are virtually no further opportunities to introduce new evidence or engage in adversarial challenge.