LYON (Jul. 1)
Lawyers for Lyon Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie opened his defense in court here Wednesday with ad hominem attacks on Israelis, Americans and, particularly the French in North Africa, for atrocities they implied were as bad or worse than those committed by Nazis.
Barbie himself was hardly mentioned as chief defense counsel Jacques Verges and his associates hammered away on the theme that Jews were not the only people who have suffered. The session, two days before the jury is to retire to consider its verdict, was the most explosive since Barbie’s trial began on May 11.
Verges did not address himself, as is customary. to the court and jury, but to lawyers for the many plaintiffs in the case. Pandemonium broke out when his assistant, Algerian lawyer Nabil Bruaita, suggested that a guilty verdict could have far-reaching implications for the interpretation of crimes against humanity with which Barbie is charged.
“Under such an interpretation, a country could ask for the extradition from France, where he is received as a VIP with red-carpet treatment, of the notorious General Sharon to be tried for crimes against humanity,” Bruaita said, a reference to Israel’s former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, presently Minister of Commerce and Industry.
GALLERY BOOS, APPLAUDS
There were shouts of protests and whistles from the visitors’ gallery, but also a ripple of applause. Presiding Judge Andre Cerdini ordered guards to remove anyone who disturbed the decorum of the court as a dozen lawyers for Holocaust survivors raised their hands for the right to respond.
Verges, who has a reputation for unpredictable courtroom tactics, masterminded the defense strategy which obviously is to cloak the horrors perpetrated by the “Butcher of Lyon” behind attacks on others.
He appeared particularly pleased with himself. As he left the court later, he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: “I tried to show that the Jews are the most vociferous, but certainly not the only victims of racism and large-scale massacres. I think I have succeeded in this. If the trial was held to point out the Jews as history’s main victims, it will fail.”
Verges also apparently felt it was a clever move to leave much of the defense argument to his associates from Third World countries. In addition to the Algerian Bruaita, he was aided by Jean-Martin Mbemba from Brazzaville, Congo who, speaking fluent French and without notes, quoted the writings of French philosophers. Mbemba recited a long list of “colonial crimes in Africa,” which he claimed were the root of the Nazi ideology. Similarly, Bruaita read a long list of Israeli “crimes,” quoting from Israeli and other Jewish writers, including Jacobo Timerman of Argentina, who wrote a book sharply critical of Israel’s war in Lebanon, and Amnon Kapeliuk, who published a book in France on the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres of 1982.