In July 2001 Djamel was arrested at Abu Dhabi airport on his way from Afghanistan, where he lived with his family, to Morocco.
He was detained in the United Arab Emirates for two months. During that period of time, he was forced to say he had met Abu Zubaydah and that he had received instructions from him: to observe and collect information and evaluate the means necessary to carry out an operation to use a truck bomb against the American embassy, and another ‘mission’ against the American Cultural Centre in Paris.
Soon after 9/11, the French authorities repatriated him. He spent the 24-hours long flight hung on parachute supports in the cold while being tortured using sound.
As soon as the plane landed, he was interrogated by an investigating judge. Beghal said he made false confessions in the UAE for a quick release from the very bad conditions he was suffering there. Beghall’s lawyer said his client denied that he had participated in any terrorist plots. But the judge said Beghal only ‘slightly’ changed his version.
Djamel was detained in solitary confinement for four years before his trial.
In January 2005 Beghal was put on trial.
In the trial, he revealed that the investigating judge had put pressure on him to maintain his false confessions. He also told of his torture in the UAE jail, which included freezing temperatures, beatings to the soles of his feet, his toe nails and teeth were ripped out, he was sleep deprived and deafening noises were inflicted upon his person. He was also tortured on his fingers with a “sort of can-opener” and a “kind of knitting needle” was used on his private parts.
Forensic evidence of this torture was documented by a doctor’s after his arrival in France and the doctor noted,
“A post-traumatic effect of the alleged events.”
Djamel Beghal stated emphatically that these bomb-attacks had never existed, neither in his imagination nor in reality: he only affirmed that he, “Simply repeated the answers that were imposed onto (him)” by his interrogators in Dubai. Nevertheless, the Court used his false confessions made in the UAE.
Miscarriage of Justice
It was only after an appeal that the court excluded his false confessions because they were obtained under duress – and sentenced him to ten years.
On 30 November 2010 Wikileaks released a cable sent on 9 May 2005 which revealed some statements of the terrorism judge, Jean-François Ricard. Ricard said that,
“His office depended significantly upon its reputation within the French justice system which tends to give the terrorism investigating judges the benefit of the doubt. As an example Ricard said that the proof against recently convicted Djamel Beghal and his accomplices, accused of plotting to bomb the US embassy, would not normally be sufficient to convict them but he believed his office was successful because of their reputation.”
Beghal was then put in solitary confinement for seven years because prison officials said he was,
However, a dialogue between the judge and a ministry of justice representative revealed that there was a serious doubt about the legality of the decision since it was not known whether this influence on other detainees was only limited to the area of prayer and religious practice, nor was it established that this influence represented a subversive and dangerous element for the security of the prison. The decision to confine him in solitary was not made because of an objective assessment of risk and excluded medical evidence.
In 2006, Beghal’s French nationality was taken away and in 2007 it was decided by government officials to deport him, his sentence ending in 2009.
When French authorities attempted to deport him to Algeria Djamel was forced to physically resist them on the airport tarmac to prevent the policemen from expelling him from the country.
An Administrative Tribunal then suspended this order of deportation in accordance with a decision by the European Court of Human Rights because he was at a, “Risk of torture, degrading and inhumane treatment” if deported to Algeria.
Djamel Beghal was then placed under house arrest in a hotel situated in a small village called Murat, Cantal, without the right to leave a 1.7 km² area. Isolated from family and friends he was made to sign a register at the local police station three times a day at 08:00, 13:00 and 18:00. He was deprived of his identity documents, the right to work and even welfare benefits. His family life was heavily affected by this regime since visiting him became extremely difficult for his wife and children, living in the UK.
Despite the harsh situation under which he was living his neighbours and even the mayor had nothing but good to say about him.
On 18 May 2010, Beghal was arrested in his hotel along with thirteen other people in different cities by the SDAT (Anti-terrorist division).
Officials said that while still under house arrest, Djamel was accused of preparing the escape of a Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, a detainee imprisoned in relation with the 1995 bomb-attacks against France. Belkacem had been jailed hundreds of Kilometres away from Djamel Beghal. The group was said to have also planned Djamel Beghal’s escape from the hotel, and his departure from France.
He was charged for “Direction of a terrorist group” even though, as highlighted by his lawyer, the facts upon which he was accused – an escape plot – is not terrorist in nature. Nevertheless, he faces a twenty year sentence.
On 25 May 2010, he was incarcerated again and placed in complete isolation at the Bois d’Arcy prison in the suburb of Paris. Inquiries are to be conducted for 18 months.
Falsification of Evidence
The allegations of escape plot planning against Djamel were based solely on wire tap evidence of phone conversations.
In March 2011, Djamel Beghal’s lawyer pointed out to the judge in charge of the case the unreliability of the translations made of the phone conversations: “wedding” was translated as a “bomb attack” and “bird” was translated to mean “helicopter”.
The impartiality of the translator was therefore in question since he was recruited by Jean-Louis Bruguière, the judge accused of putting illegitimate pressures on Djamel to keep his false confessions extracted under torture in the UAE in the first court case.
Furthermore, in 2009, this translator had introduced himself to Djamel as a journalist wanting to make a documentary denouncing the conspiracy that lead to his imprisonment. Djamel’s lawyer was understandably surprised to face this ‘journalist’, now acting as a translator.
Police custody nullification
The Instructive chamber of the Court of Appeal nullified Djamel’s police custody and interrogations. In contradiction with the constant case law of the European Court of Human Rights, he could not benefit from the assistance of a lawyer, nor was he notified his right to silence during his police custody and hearings.
It was the first time that a French Court invalidates interrogations made in a terrorism-related case. Maître Tourné, Djamel ‘s lawyer, commented:
“It is reassuring to observe that terrorism is not excluded from common law”.
Out of solitary confinement
If you know Djamel Beghal, have any more information or simply want to help, please contact Cageprisoners' French Caseworker