Written by Arnaud Mafille
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Ten years after the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, many in America, in Europe or in the Muslim world now challenge the western presence there. In 2001, some of those sentiments already existed but were covered by the trauma of 9/11. In that context of fear and emotion, the announcement of the arrest of a European “al Qaeda lieutenant” was a key element to conduct and justify the invasion of Afghanistan both in France and the UK.
On 7 October 2001, allied armed forces officially launched “Operation Enduring Freedom”, the invasion of Afghanistan. The enemy had been designated and the US and the UK governments had secret evidence proving that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks and the Taliban were the helpers of Al Qaeda. Questions regarding the official line were not given any weight.
Emotion and fear were also at their pinnacle in France. When George W. Bush Jr sent an ultimatum to the Taliban regime only few days after the 9/11, the French population was wondering if their military should be part of the foreseeable invasion of Afghanistan.
The final answer to their doubts was given by the media on 2 October 2001. A “self-confessed terrorist” had been arrested in the UAE. Djamel Beghal had just confirmed before a French judge the confessions he made in Abu Dhabi. He admitted to be a lieutenant of bin Laden, he had recognised that he was at the head of a complex terrorist network across Europe and he had attested that he had planned an attack against American interests in France. The country had found its reason to take part in the newly declared “Global War on Terror”. This “reason” was unquestioned since the public narrative was that Beghal had been misled: in the UAE, Muslim scholars were brought to him by the American interrogators and he was shown that his understanding of the Qur’an was wrong. Enlightened by those clarifications, Djamel Beghal had given up his ideology and repented. On his return to France, he was offered by the judge a full protection for himself and his family in exchange of the confirmation of his confessions…
That is for the official narrative. In reality, Djamel Beghal’s experience was entirely different and equates at least to the stories of those Muslims sent to Guantanamo. He was kidnapped at Abu Dhabi Airport on 20 July 2001 after he was signalled to the local authorities by the CIA and the French DGSE. For two months, he suffered the worst forms of torture: rape, stress positions, beatings, injections of chemicals, sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures…For two months, the secret agencies of the world came to interrogate him and force him into “confessions”.
European authorities were among the most involved in his questioning. Djamel Beghal alleges that a British agent repeatedly interrogated him and even abused him physically. Similarly, it appears that the French authorities, who were reported to be aware of his detention from the very beginning, provided questions to his torturers. On 21 September 2001, the impromptu revelation of Djamel Beghal’s arrest in a French newspaper hastened the arrest of several of his acquaintances in France and probably convinced the French investigating judge Jean-Louis Bruguière to travel to the UAE. Djamel Beghal never came across him there, but just a day after, interrogators managed to obtain from him signed confessions. Bruguière went back to France with information that he was the head of a terrorist plot mandated by Al Qaeda to blow up the American embassy in France.
Ten days later, Djamel Beghal was put in a rendition flight and sent back to France in horrendous conditions (hung by his arms in a deafening noise and extreme cold). He landed in France on 1 October 2001. That was the end of one ordeal and the beginning of another as he was immediately interrogated by French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière for 19 hours during which he said himself and his family were threatened. He nevertheless denied all the statements he made under duress in the UAE as well as any links with Al Qaeda. Here is another point of contention, since Judge Bruguière released some elements of the case file to the media on 19 October 2001, indicating that Djamel Beghal had confirmed his confessions but had only altered the target of the alleged planned attack.
It is of special interest since it seems that those statements also served as a justification for the war in Afghanistan a posteriori, not only in France but also in the UK. Hence, on 19 October 2001, British newspapers reported those alleged declarations that he made on 1 October 2001 before judge Bruguière (which, again, Beghal strongly denies as he has no knowledge of Al Qaeda) and according to which the Taliban regime would have made a pact with Al Qaeda in May 2001. It was said that he explained :
“None of the terrorist operations of al-Qaida could have been decided after May 2001 except with the accord of the Taliban and their chief, Mullah (Mohammed) Omar. …al-Qaida is an integral part of the Taliban regime”.
Those challenged statements were publicised twelve days after the beginning of the “Operation Enduring Freedom” while Djamel Beghal was interrogated by the French judge a week before the invasion. It came as a confirmation of a dossier published by the UK government on 4 October 2001, linking Osama bin Laden to the 9/11 attacks and Al Qaeda to the Taliban. However, questions arose when knowing the background of this dossier. Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary at that time, said that “an enormous amount” of the evidence was based on intelligence gathered by the American and British agencies. It is even more troubling when we know that a large part of the interrogations conducted in the UAE by western intelligence under Beghal’s torture was mainly focused on Osama bin Laden.
Regardless, the torture of Djamel Beghal was definitely a triggering factor of the “war on terror” in Europe as his false and forced confessions engendered a wave of arrests in France, the UK, Netherlands and Spain. Ten years later, we now know that the first “Al Qaeda network” dismantled in Europe after the 9/11 did not exist. Fear was a bad advisor ten years ago and prevented us from challenging the internal and international policies endorsed by our leaders. Now that our reason is not blackened anymore by our emotions, perhaps should we all start disputing what is presented as fact and what has caused thousands of Muslims to suffer all over the world, be they illegitimately detained, tortured or killed in the name of this infamous war on terror.