LYONS, FRANCE, JUNE 30 -- The government today asked that Klaus Barbie be given the maximum punishment in France -- life in prison -- for crimes against humanity, saying the former Gestapo lieutenant "is still faithful to his Nazi ideals."
Chief Prosecutor Pierre Truche, summing up his case in the eighth and final week of a long-delayed trial, depicted the 73-year-old Barbie, called the "Butcher of Lyons," as an unrepentant torturer who went beyond orders to kill, maim and deport Jews and resistance activists as chief of the Lyons branch of the Nazi secret police, or Gestapo, from 1942 to 1944.
Truche's harsh portrait and request for a life sentence constituted the finale to a crescendo of agonizing testimony from victims of Nazi horrors, who described Barbie's role in arrests, interrogations, torture and deportations to Hitler's death camps. It marked a dramatic end to four years of hesitation and preparation since Barbie was flown to France from his hideout in Bolivia in 1983, 32 years after the United States helped him flee Europe.
Barbie, who has denied responsibility for most of the atrocities attributed to him, was absent for Truche's appeal to the Lyons criminal court. He walked out of his trial on the third day, declaring he was extradited illegally from Bolivia and calling himself "a hostage, not a prisoner." Since then he has made only two brief reappearances for identification by witnesses on orders from Presiding Judge Andre Cerdini.
Barbie's chief lawyer, Jacques Verges, was scheduled to sum up his defense arguments Wednesday and Thursday with help from two assistant defense lawyers, Jean-Martin M'Bemba and Nabil Bouaita. A verdict is expected Friday, according to a court announcement.
The midtrial addition to the defense team of M'Bemba, a Congolese, and Bouaita, an Algerian, seemed designed as an attempt to underline Verges' contention that the French government is unqualified to put Barbie on trial since it also has committed inhuman crimes in France's colonial past.
Before the trial began May 11, Verges repeatedly warned that he would put France on trial outside the courtroom, bringing out embarrassing revelations about French collaboration with Nazi occupation authorities and French abuses during the Algerian war. But in the face of powerful testimony from victims of the Nazis and in the absence of any revelations from Barbie, Verges' tactics have failed so far to distract France's attention from the charges against Barbie.
"Barbie is not a German we have taken hostage to wash our hands of French crimes," Truche said, anticipating Verges' arguments.
"This is not the trial of a German we are holding here," he added. "It is the trial of a torturer who committed the crimes I have described to you. This trial is necessary because Barbie has not changed at all. He is a man who is still faithful to his Nazi ideals."
In a style that appeared deliberately low-key, Truche also asked the court of nine civilian jurors and three judges to discount Barbie's argument that he was following orders.
On May 12, the second day of his trial, Barbie told the court that he was "not responsible" for all the crimes attributed to him because he was just following orders. He said he was only one member of a 120-man Gestapo unit in Lyons and that the unit was a dependency of the German occupation army in France.
According to precedents from the Nuremberg war crimes trials, a defense of following orders from higher authorities can be considered an attenuating circumstance for crimes committed in wartime.
"Without betraying the confidence his leaders placed in him, Barbie could have done a lot less," Truche said. "He took initiatives, and these intitiatives led him to commit the odious actions that you know about."
Postwar French tribunals convicted Barbie of war crimes in absentia in 1952 and 1954 and sentenced him to death. By then, he was safely in Bolivia, spirited away with help from the U.S. Army's Counter Intelligence Corps, which had employed him as an informer in postwar Germany.
But the previous convictions are outdated and no longer valid under French law, and the death penalty has been abolished in France. A 20-year statute of limitations prevented Barbie from being retried for war crimes. In this trial, the French prosecution instead charged Barbie with crimes against humanity -- which have no statute of limitations -- based on different cases and new evidence.
Barbie has been accused specifically of killing or deporting 59 persons, organizing a roundup of 86 persons at the Lyons office of the General Union of French Jews and of 44 Jewish children and seven teachers at a children's home in nearby Izieu and deporting several hundred Jews and French resistance activists on a train that left Lyons Aug. 11, 1944, shortly before Nazi forces retreated.
"It is a frightful sum," Truche said. "If we add things up, it is 842 deportations. If we just add up the deaths that are known for sure, it is 373 deaths. What . . . court has ever had to deal with such a number of deaths?"