LYONS, FRANCE, JULY 1 -- Defense lawyers for Klaus Barbie told a Lyons court today that it would be unjust to condemn the former Gestapo lieutenant for crimes against humanity while ignoring what they said are similar crimes committed against peoples of the Third World.
"There is no difference between the crimes of yesterday and the crimes of today," declared Nabil Bouaita, an Algerian lawyer assisting in Barbie's defense. Recalling Israel's bombardment of Lebanon in 1982, he said, "I do not see a difference between crematory ovens and phosphorous bombs."
As the defense summed up its arguments in the eighth and final week of Barbie's trial, Bouaita challenged the court to consider what difference there is between an Israeli pilot dropping bombs on civilians in Beirut and a Nazi SS officer, such as Barbie, sending Jews to their deaths in German concentration camps.
"Is it by this derisory difference that civilization is measured?" he asked.
The chief defense lawyer, Jacques Verges, along with Bouaita and Jean-Martin M'Bemba, a Congolese lawyer also on the defense team, thus spent the first of two days of defense summary calling into question the equity of proceedings here against Barbie, 73. They made no attempt to refute specific charges leveled against him in agonizing detail since the trial began May 11.
These charges include participation in torture and deportation of hundreds of Jews and French resistance activists during Barbie's service as a Gestapo chief here from 1942 to 1944. The chief government prosecutor, Pierre Truche, asked the court yesterday to sentence Barbie to life imprisonment.
The defense tactic was part of what Verges has called "defense by rupture," or calling into question the legitimacy of laws rather than trying to prove they were not broken. It is a legal strategy he devised while defending Algerian rebels against French authorities in the 1950s and a weapon in what he describes as a struggle between white colonial powers and oppressed peoples with dark skin.
Verges said, however, that he plans to deal with the charges and points of law on Thursday. Presiding Judge Andre Cerdini has scheduled a verdict for Friday evening. The court is composed of nine jurors and three judges.
The defense arguments, which appeared calculated to provoke, drew angry protests from civil plaintiffs' lawyers. Michel Zaoui, representing the Federation of French Jewish Societies, called the accusations against Israel "intolerable" and, interrupting Bouaita, demanded time to reply immediately.
"I have not given you the floor, Mr. Zaoui," Judge Cerdini admonished him. "Please sit down."
Francois La Phuong, although representing French resistance veterans as civil plaintiffs, broke in to object that under French law the defense is free to say whatever it wants, without interruption. His statement was greeted with applause and whistles in the spectators' gallery, which throughout the trial had shown hostility to Verges.
Cerdini ruled that Zaoui and fellow civil plaintiffs' lawyers would be allowed to reply to the defense, but only at the end of its arguments Thursday.
Verges, recognized by friends and foes as a nimble lawyer, opened the defense summaries by making what he called a "bow" to the sufferings of Jews and Gypsies during World War II and, in particular, 44 Jewish children sent to their deaths from a children's home in the nearby village of Izieu in 1944.
Barbie, who is accused of organizing the deportations from Izieu, joined in the bow from his cell, Verges said. Barbie, who hid in Bolivia under a false name until he was deported to France in 1983, has boycotted his trial since the third day, declaring he was sent from Bolivia illegally.
After the opening gesture, Verges moved swiftly to challenge the legitimacy of the charges against Barbie. He evoked the memory of African soldiers in the French Army who died at the hands of Nazis and killings of Algerian veterans by French colonial authorities in Algeria after World War II.
"Is it also in their names that you are going to judge Barbie?" he asked. "Why would some victims, belonging to the nobles, be the touching victims of crimes against humanity, while others fall into anonymity, victims of regrettable mistakes?"
Taking the floor next, M'Bemba recalled the deaths of thousands of African laborers during French colonial railway construction in West Africa. "Yes, one speaks of crimes against humanity committed against Jews and Gypsies," he said. "So when will we hear about the crimes against humanity committed against black people? Do you think all Nazi practices were totally different from colonial practices?"