LYONS, FRANCE, JULY 2 -- Klaus Barbie's chief defense lawyer, calling the prosecution a "dirty mishmash of contradictions," today mounted his first systematic attempt to refute specific charges of crimes against humanity facing the former Nazi SS officer.
Jacques Verges, deploying his rhetoric in full force for summary arguments, repeatedly underlined inconsistent testimony from the dozens of aging witnesses who have filed before the court here over the last eight weeks to describe what they said was Barbie's key role in Nazi atrocities during his service as a Gestapo chief in Lyons from 1942 to 1944.
The sharp attacks on witnesses' credibility during the final summary marked a clear shift from Verges' earlier reserve. As the elderly victims of Nazi cruelty appeared in person to recount their often agonizing stories, Verges had held back from confronting them harshly in apparent fear of appearing callous before their suffering.
Even today, with most witnesses absent from the courtroom, Verges was careful to attribute the contradictions to good-faith forgetfulness or to coaching from the prosecution and numerous civil plaintiffs representing Jewish and French resistance groups. He nevertheless urged the three judges and nine jurors to focus on contradictions and lapses as an indication that Barbie has been made a scapegoat by those seeking to avenge Nazi crimes.
"The witnesses who are to be believed, 40 years later, are those who recognize the faults in their memories, not those who recite a lesson learned," he declared, turning later to the court and adding: "Don't you think you are being made fun of in being asked to make a decision based on such a dirty mishmash of contradictions?"
In an afternoon-long speech, Verges directed his fire against two of the main categories of crimes Barbie is charged with: ordering a roundup of Jews at the Lyons offices of the General Union of French Jews in 1943 and organizing the last deportation train to leave Lyons, in August 1944.
Verges said he would wind up his defense summary Friday morning. Presiding Judge Andre Cerdini has announced that a verdict is expected by Friday evening.
Verges particularly attacked the credibility of Michel Thomas, now a New York resident, who testified Barbie was present during the raid at the General Union of French Jews, and Fernand Hahn, who said Barbie addressed him at the railway station as the final deportation train was about to pull out.
Both men were key to prosecution attempts to place Barbie at the scene of the crimes with which he is charged.
Thomas was unbelievable in contending that he discussed painting with a Nazi officer while the raid was carried out, Verges said. Such a refined discussion amid the anguish of a roundup of Jews would be absurd, Verges declared, and an easily recognizable Yiddish accent would have given him away and led to his own capture.
Similarly, Verges said Hahn's account should be discounted because Hahn testified that Barbie said in the presence of German soldiers that he had acquired a personal fortune, had an airplane ready to fly him to South America and was already in contact with U.S. intelligence. At that time, August 1944, the German Army in France was fighting Allied forces who had landed at Normandy two months earlier, Verges recalled.
"Hahn's testimony is obviously a lie," Verges concluded.