Boukhari and Shaftari»Memory-confessions«of two Arab perpetrators - PDF

WORKING papers No. 12, 2014 Boukhari and Shaftari»Memory-confessions«of two Arab perpetrators Sonja Hegasy, Zentrum Moderner Orient Introduction Between 1975 and 1990 the Lebanese population went through

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WORKING papers No. 12, 2014 Boukhari and Shaftari»Memory-confessions«of two Arab perpetrators Sonja Hegasy, Zentrum Moderner Orient Introduction Between 1975 and 1990 the Lebanese population went through a bloody civil war whose repercussions are obviously still weighing severely on society up to today. Nearly twenty-five years after its end, the conflicting parties cannot agree on a single narrative of events. Memory of the civil war is still organized according to sectarian divides. Militia leaders have meanwhile become venerated members of the political elite. Remembering the mutual assault and debating its causes has been regarded by many in Lebanon as a form of keeping the destructive forces alive.»no vanquisher no vanquished«or»it was a war outsiders fought on our territory«are the most commonly heard phrases. Looking back and researching events of the war is regarded as a threat to the minimal balance acquired after the conflict. This has led to the victims being unheard and left on their own. Against this form of forgetting, human rights activists have started projects to extract memories of the war-time from all sides and through all generations. The second country I look at here is Morocco where civil society has brought about a debate on mass human rights violations by the state following independence in 1956 until the death of Hassan II in Since then, several initiatives have turned towards the victims and looked after their physical and mental needs. The monarchy took this up in creating an Indemnity Commission which was followed by a Truth Commission in Morocco has seen a lively debate about its violent past in the media and numerous cultural projects. By December 2013, according to the Conseil national des droits de l homme (CNDH), 26,063 victims had received indemnification for violence exerted by official as well as secret state organs through the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (ERC) and its current follow-up body the CNDH (TelQuel No 625, June 2014). A campaign for the missing is still under way. Citizens critically call the approach to come to terms with the past in Lebanon a state-sponsored policy of»amnesia to turn the page«or»closing the chapter«whereas in Morocco the strategy of the monarchy is referred to as»reading the page, then turning it«. The actors This working paper for the first time looks in a contrasting way at the memories of two Arab perpetrators; one of them a former Christian militia leader from Lebanon, the other a former secret service agent from Morocco. I chose their pleas for comparison as both came forward with the rare intention to take over responsibility and ask for forgiveness. Contrary to the majority of perpetrators, Ahmed Boukhari and Assaad Shaftari both have admitted their crimes repeatedly. They also describe their own participation in detail, not glossing over their own deeds. I am most interested in two aspects here: How do they treat their own guilt? And how is their action appropriated by further actors, like victims, activists, family or neighbours? Perpetrators testimonies surely constitute highly constructed narratives about the past. In order to explore how personal memory enters into spheres of public awareness, and how this actualises public consciousness as well as historical review, a research group at ZMO 1 constituted itself around 1 This working paper was developed as part of the former research group Transforming Memories by ZMO and the Beirut-based UMAM Documentation & Research to investi- ZMO 2014 Kirchweg 33, D Berlin Telefon: Fax: Internet: the term»transforming memories«(see also Assmann and Shortt 2012). Arguably, any memory that is not kept to oneself might be regarded as»transforming memory«. But with the emphasis on its transformative quality, the ZMO group stressed the look at its changing social as well as political repercussions: Perpetrators predictions influence debates on amnesties, law enforcement and justice currently under way in both countries all the more evident in state efforts to defame their testimonies of violence. This has led me to regard the avowals by the Lebanese former militia fighter Assaad Shaftari and the Moroccan former agent Ahmed Boukhari as significant; despite the fact that for example in the Moroccan context Boukhari s»mémoires-confessions«are regarded by critics as»a bunch of lies«or»overflowing with greed to monetize the past«. 2 The term»memory«here covers accounts of the past in different forms, like memoirs, testimonies, confessions, intergenerational dialogues as well as lived commemoration, always keeping in mind its interlinked but subjective quality. The literature agrees that memory is a process whereby the past is evoked answering to an urgent (individual as well as collectively communicated) need of the present. In order to capture the different historical contexts of civil war in Lebanon and grave human rights violations in Morocco in one analytical term I suggest to speak here of memories of»political violence«. Both initial texts were published around the same time: In June 2001 Ahmed Boukhari, a former agent of the counter-subversion unit at the General Directorate for National Security, Cab 1, gave his testimony on a number of missing persons to the independent weekly Le Journal hebdomadaire. The most well-known among them being Mehdi Ben Barka, a prominent leader of the Moroccan left. A year later Boukhari published what he called»mémoires-confessions«under the title Le secret. Ben Barka et le Maroc. Un ancien agent des services spéciaux parle (2002 Paris: Michel Lafon). Assaad Shaftari was a high-ranking officer in the Maronite Lebanese Forces and deputy of Elie Hobeiqa who commanded the massacre of Sabra and Shatila in Around 150 Maronite militiamen mutilated, raped and killed Palestinian refugees then, most of them civilians, in retaliation for the murder of Bachir Gemayel, President-Elect of Lebanon. 3 In 2000 Assaad Shaftari published a letgate the socialization of traumatic memories. For more information see Transforming Memories: Cultural Production and Personal/Public Memory in Lebanon and Morocco. www. 2 Interview with an unnamed human rights activist on 24 June 2014 in Rabat. 3 Gemayel was killed the day after his election on 14 September Until his assassination in 2002, Hobeiqa himself always denied any responsibility for the massacre. ter of apology and asked his victims for forgiveness for his crimes. Besides their texts I will refer to three films with their participation to examine the performance or staging of their acknowledgements: In Place by Monika Borgman and Lokman Slim (2012), Sleepless Nights by Eliane Raheb (2013) as well as an interview by Radio France Internationale (RFI) with Ahmed Boukhari. The Lebanese as well as Moroccan French-speaking press uses the terms bourreau (hangman) or less frequently tortionnaire to denote the practitioner of violence during the Lebanese Civil War or the Moroccan Years of Lead (commonly covering the years ). Both French terms clearly address the agony of torment. In Arabic you find terms, which pretend more neutral stances: Crimes are often simply designated as»the event(s)«(alhadtha / hawādith). Assaad Shaftari uses the dispassionate term»deeds«to ask his victims for forgiveness (ʿataḏar ʿan ʿafʿālī). Saadi Nikro has pointed out that fighters in the Lebanese Civil War are often simply called»participant«(al-mushtarik) in retrospect. 4 But in their self-designations, other perpetrators also use the term al-jallād, best translated as executioner or hangman or al-jāni and almurtakib (perpetrator). I will continue to use the term»perpetrator«in the following as a more value-free and less emotional umbrella term for crimes committed. Whereas in Lebanon several perpetrators from all ideological backgrounds have spoken out (Assaad Shaftari, Regina Sneifer, Joseph Saadé, Karim Muruwa), in Morocco it is so far basically only Ahmed Boukhari 5 as well as the detective el-khulti. In addition, in June 2006 the news magazine TelQuel featured an interview with an anonymous torturer 6 In Lebanon, the open self-incrimination can be attributed to the national reconciliation agreement signed in Ta if in 1989 to end the civil war. Following the agreement, an amnesty was issued for all political crimes carried out before 1991, so that the»civil war chapter«could finally be closed. This, of course, gave perpetrators impunity from legal redress in Lebanon. The question remains of how to compare the extreme violence and social disruption of a civil war with human rights violations against a segment of 4 Presentation at ZMO 30 May On the abduction of Mehdi Ben Barka, a number of French officials have spoken out though with dubious backgrounds and no resilient information. See Antoine Lopez (2000). 6 Anonymous interview with a torturer in TelQuel, 17 June Ahmed Benchemsi, editor of TelQuel, justified giving the voice to a torturer by pointing to the necessity to revisit the past in order to prevent torture and any implicit complaisance:»moyen d autodéfense du régime contre les terroristes. Il est nécessaire que nous soyons choqués pour qu à la force de ce choc réponde la force d une conviction: plus jamais ça.«(telquel 6 July 2006). I thank Christine Rollin for providing this text. 2 society? There surely exists a quantitative difference with regard to the physical damage, social destruction and human polarization between an encompassing civil war and a state clampdown on oppositional forces. It is estimated that in Lebanon between 150,000 and 230,000 people died in the conflict, and that a further 115,000 were injured out of a population of four million inhabitants. A fifth of the population was forced from their homes and large areas of Beirut were destroyed. In the case of Morocco, much fewer people were affected by direct state violence. Still, complete areas (e.g. around secret detention centres) were explicitly excluded from development and literally vanished from the map. The arbitrariness of state prosecution turned the whole country into a state of fear (hiba). As becomes clear from the testimonies of many victims and what is also explicitly confirmed in the writings of Ahmad Boukhari is the arbitrariness that became the hallmark of authoritarian rule in post-colonial Morocco. As in a civil war, death and arrest could affect anybody: neighbours, friends or passers-by. Persecution was carried out randomly against anybody in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not only was the state unable to secure the adequate well-being of its population, but it also turned against its own citizens. In Morocco, this led to an overall paralysis and the near complete stifling of any meaningful political activism in the 70ies and 80ies (exceptions are e.g. the bread riots). In contrast to Morocco, in Lebanon, victims have often not even received any medical check-up after they survived their plight. Many perpetrators lead a very good life, belonging to the political elite of the country and traveling freely around the globe show-casing their trajectories. The amnesty law has worked to impede efforts pursuing accountability and appropriate applications of social justice and welfare for the victims. At the same time, as we will see, it enabled perpetrators to speak out (sometimes anonymously) in various public fora (see e.g. the film Massaker (2004), Assaad Shaftari s plead guilty act or the memoirs of Joseph Saadé published in Arabic translation by Dar al- Jadeed under the title I am the victim and the torturer am I in ). The two avowals presented here constitute an exceptional form of admission and take on responsibility in contrast to statements that claim any refusal to carry out orders would have meant one s own death. What Harald Welzer (2013 [2005]) has called presenting one s own biography»without any psychological crack«(»psychologische Bruchlosigkeit«) cannot be attributed to Boukhari and Shaftari. Shaftari is today shaken to the core and displays such»cracks«physically (e.g. in a 7 First edition in France in constantly shaking left hand) as well as verbally. He recognizes in retrospect under which circumstances he became a fighter, but at the same time, he does not understand today why he was following an erroneous version of Christianity; thus he does not present his biography as logic in retrospect.»god«seems to play an important role in the»confessions«by Boukhari as well as for Assaad Shaftari as we will see below. A Christian priest forgave Shaftari s crimes over and over again and sent him and his comrades back to killing. Both Boukhari and Shaftari refer to the Day of Judgment as a motivating force for their public interventions, though Boukhari addresses it in pointing to his peers, not to himself personally. 8 If we consider the process from one of the first personal accounts on disappearance and torture during the Moroccan Years of Lead in 1982 by Abdellatif Laâbi until today, when there is still a struggle over determining a list of suspected torturers to initiate proceedings against them, we recognize an immensely difficult and tedious process of coming to terms with a violent past unfolding. Laâbi, a well-known poet and writer, was one of the first victims to share his ordeal, while further memoirs and recollections processed in different artistic and pedagogic formats are still coming out today. In the following I will first present both perpetrators separately, staying closely to their own predictions. I will look at the reputed reasons for their confessions, their staging and reception of each of their testimonies. I will then probe into the difficult relationship between perpetrator s pleas and the space of manoeuvre for victims. The research shows the high interdependency between perpetrators and victims memories in the process of negotiating an understanding of the past. Their interplay is decisive for shaping the agendas by which history is debated and memory is selectively deployed. Subsequently I ask, what these deliberations mean for the often-demanded»reconciliation of societies«, sometimes claimed to reconcile society»with its own history«and sometimes»amongst itself«. This section will deal with the differences between a case that passed an amnesty law (Lebanon) and a country that instituted a truth commission (Morocco). In the conclusion I will come back to the dynamics created by Boukhari and Shaftari and the potential of their admissions. With memories of violence often formulated as allegedly collective and thus impersonal ones, individual perpetrator testimonies transcend established narratives, advance the dialogical capabilities of memories and most importantly in my view constitute an important breach of the surrounding silence. 8 With reference to the memoirs of Lebanese communist leader Karim Muruwa from 2002, Sune Haugbolle remarks that such expressions of regret are not tied to religious convictions only. (Haugbolle 2010: 150) 3 Morocco In Le secret. Ben Barka et le Maroc Ahmed Boukhari builds his testimony on three elements:»aux rapports établis par les agents, aux films tournés par les policiers et aux confidences des témoins«(2002: 179). He claims that the aim of the secret operation led by Mohamed Achaâchi was to bring Ben Barka back to Morocco alive. 9 Boukhari dedicates his book»to: Mehdi Ben Barka et les siens, aux disparus et à leurs familles, à tous ceux qui ont payé de leur chair pour édifier un Maroc meilleur«. What does it mean when a perpetrator dedicates his memoirs to a victim? Does it speak of a sincere will to contribute to the clarification of the crime and break with the predominant silence? Or is it a form of self-absolution? Or even the ultimate cynicism, a gesture that forbids itself in the light of the on-going suffering by victims and the families in the present? To this day, the family of Mehdi Ben Barka does not know what happened to him after he was abducted in broad daylight in Paris in October Ben Barka, a famous resistance fighter against the French mandate in Morocco and founding member of the Istiqlal Party in 1944, served as the country s first parliamentary president from 1956 to 1959 (at the time a National Advisory Council). Afterwards he co-founded the Union Nationale des Forces Populaires (UNFP), a socialist offshoot of Istiqlal. In 1962, Ben Barka was accused of high treason and sentenced to death in absentia in exile in Algeria. Three years later, Ben Barka was kidnapped in Paris in a joint operation by France s external intelligence agency and the Moroccan secret service and subsequently tortured to death. At the time he was preparing the Tricontinentale, an international conference in Havana. It was there that liberation movements from Africa, Asia and Latin America met in order to exchange ideas on development strategies and ways to resist neocolonial expansion. But Ben Barka disappeared and his body was never found. In 1966 and 1967, several agents were put on trial in France and convicted though they are commonly regarded as the mere henchmen of the operation. Ahmed Dlimi, then head of the Moroccan security services, turned himself in to the French justice system seemingly against the will of Hassan II. He was acquitted in the end, though it seems certain today that he was part of the mission to kill Mehdi Ben Barka. 10 The then Minister of the Interior Mohammed Oufkir was convicted of murder in ab- sentia. Oufkir, a highly decorated veteran of the Second World War and of the French war in Vietnam, had been interior minister from 1967 to 1971, and was notorious for his ruthless actions against political opponents. 11 Several efforts by French courts to reopen the case of Mehdi Ben Barka in 2007 and in 2009 were obstructed by the Moroccan authorities. And relations between Morocco and France are still strained when it comes to the murder of Ben Barka on French soil. The case of Mehdi Ben Barka remains unsettled and stirs up protests and intense media attention. The family still seeks to know the truth and identify the main collaborators. For many citizens, Mehdi Ben Barka continues to represent an alternative for social justice in a region that grapples more and more vehemently today with the years of independence and the badly disappointed hopes connected to the new leadership. In his mémoires-confessions Ahmed Boukhari writes that at the time of the kidnapping of Mehdi Ben Barka he was a telephone operator at the headquarters of Cab. 1 and had to pass on orders from Fontenay-le-Viconte. What he calls»having witnessed«the murder is in fact a reconstruction of knowledge he received from third parties days later. According to Boukhari, Ben Barka died under torture by Ahmed Dlimi. His former superior Mohamed Achaâchi, his colleagues Saka and Mesnaoui as well as Mohammed Oufkir and several other agents were present at the site. Hence, Ben Barka s body was flown to Morocco and dissolved in an acid bath, whose construction Boukhari himself had supervised earlier and describes in detail in the book. The»dissolution in acid«had always been used as a media hook and got wide media attention. 12 Other theories have since been voiced as well, but no certain course of events has been established and the main perpetrators escaped judicial persecution. 13 The text One notes at the beginning of his text that Boukhari is not able to start with himself: He starts off with an alleged reunion in May 2011 (i.e. one month before Le Journal hebdomadaire published his account) between himself, his former superior Mohamed Achaâche and his former colleague Mohamed Mesnaoui, all of them by now retired. Boukhari claims that the other two, and a third person, Abdelkader Saka, were present in Paris during the murder of Ben Barka. Boukhari
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