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The Torn Curtain: New installment of Emmanuel Carrère’s chronicles since the trial for the Paris attacks

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Chapter 35

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1. An excellent job

As the end of judgment approaches, we think of the beginning, of the journey we have made. What will happen inside each of us between the moment, on September 8th, when we step inside this huge white wooden box and the judgment scheduled for June 29th. I remember the first day. The President took the floor to say that this process, which everyone rightly considered exceptional, should be conducted in strict compliance with the norm of the law. It would be exemplary if this condition were met. And in short, here’s what happened: it’s not a little. Let’s see how the Supreme Court prosecutor, Camille Hennetier, addressed the court at the end of her application on Friday 10th: “Terror is the disappearance of the torn curtain that hides nothingness and that it normally enables us to live in peace. Terrorism is the impossible rest. The judgment of the court will not be able to repair the torn curtain. It does not heal visible and invisible wounds. It will not bring the dead back to life. But at least it will be able to guarantee the living that law and order have the last word here.”

From start to finish on Friday the 13th I was impressed with the quality of the request. Three judges from the anti-terror prosecutor’s office, two men framing a woman, and the three young people, in this case the opposite of the court: four women around an older man, an older face of the judiciary. The three participated in the summary from day one: They know it by heart. Always precise, no sensationalism, never a spontaneous question: very high level. We wondered what this unprecedented court requirement of a three-day tax liability would look like. Camille Hennetier, Nicolas Braconnay and Nicolas Le Bris took turns doing something extraordinary about two hours apart: recalling everything from the beginning, collecting everything, telling everything. The narrative beginning of the process was a kind of chronology by chapters, inevitable but frustrating: personality, then radicalization, trips to Syria, last year, the last months, the last weeks, the last days… From one chapter to another, you put the threads back together that had come undone, frayed. I speak of narration, of history: as if I were a construction worker whose job it is to narrate, I admired the rigor and virtuosity of the exercise. Since it is not possible to say everything, you must choose the most important details. The portraits of the accused, the role each played in the death machine, the specific charges at the appropriate places. Remember, we’ll never know everything, but they, the ones on the bench, do. Explain that silence is a right, as is lying, and that they have made extensive use of both the first and second.

However, this exemplary synthesis and pedagogical work has a limit: What do we still know about what we knew from the indictment, which summarized everything that could be known about the accused and their crimes before the trial? What else have these nine months of audience added to it? Actually quite little. In terms of information maybe 10% or 15% more. What has to do with the victims was immense and immense what we learned about humanity by listening to them. But… On the bench? We questioned ourselves and the others ad nauseam about Salah Abdeslam’s changing moods. Has the explosive belt failed him? He was afraid? Have you had a stroke of humanity? Are your apologies sincere? But what does his sincerity count? What interest do their moods have? A poor mystery: an abysmal void shrouded in lies that, in hindsight, leaves us a little stunned after examining it so closely.

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2. Intimate conviction

The requirements. They are serious and nuanced. For Salah Abdeslam, the only person believed to be responsible for the attacks, life imprisonment that cannot be reduced: the authentic life imprisonment, which is practically never convicted. Also very severe requirements, but with verifiable permanent sentences of twenty or thirty years, an enormous but less rare sentence, for eternal companion Mohamed Abrini; for Mohamed Bakkali, Osama Krayem and Sofien Ayari (the highest positions of the entire cell in the Islamic State hierarchy); for the “oppositionists”, Adel Haddadi and Muhammad Usman, who, because of their arrest in Vienna, could not take part in the attacks but should have taken part and who – according to the public prosecutor – should be punished as if they had done so.

The possible application of leniency concerns the three at large defendants, Abdellah Chouaa, Hamza Attou and Ali Oulkadi, whom Camille Hennetier agrees to designate as “auxiliaries”. He recognizes the mitigating factor that they respect their judicial control and docilely appear in court every day, despite the fact that it gives them every headache: they live in Belgium, they can no longer work, they have to make it in Paris with practically no money to survive. The lawyers for these three can be counted on to buy them out, which means they could be released. Suppose I’m a jury. Or a judge, because there is no jury in this trial. Before the court retires to deliberate, as it will in two weeks, Article 353 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is read to me: “The law obliges each juror and judge to consult himself in silence and reflection, to seek in the sincerity of his conscience what impression the evidence presented against the accused and the means of his defense have made on his reason. The law asks them a single question that encompasses the full scope of their duties: Do you have an intimate belief??”. Yes, today I have one. It is that of Camille Hennetier, Nicolas Braconnay and Nicolas Le Bris.

The evidence presented against the accused made a great impression on my reason. If I were a jury, I would approve your requests. But French court rule says the defense speaks last. He will speak for two weeks. The thirty or so lawyers sitting in front of the dock are also young and bright. They will play all their cards. Anything that seemed obvious and irrefutable to me throughout the tax request will lose its probative value. They will review everything, mince it, they will analyze every argument for the prosecution and, if not to reverse it, minimize it, contextualize it with more or less good faith for the needs of the defense. Doubts will creep in, which, as is well known, favors the accused, and that seems to me a very good thing. I don’t know if that trait would make me a good or bad judge, but I’m easily persuaded, I easily understand other people’s reasons, which is both a trait – lack of prejudice – and a flaw, risk getting caught up in a weather vane that always shares the opinion of the last person who spoke. My inner conviction is wavering, undecided. So once I’ve assimilated what convinced me to be taxable – almost anything – I clearly intend to observe how they’re going to make me change my mind.

3. Extinction

At the beginning of the third indictment session, something strange happened. The neon lights on the ceiling that illuminate the room are suddenly dimmed. They haven’t died out completely, they haven’t plunged us into darkness, but their intensity has decreased by at least half. Someone must have pressed the wrong button. After a few seconds the light went back to normal, we hardly had time to startle ourselves. Almost no, but almost no is almost: we were afraid. The civil parties had it. Even those of the Bataclan who remembered the dim light of the carnage were afraid. For a moment we thought that… The curtain’s torn again?

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Source elpais.com

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