Thursday, November 25, 2004

Follow-Up: Outrageous Intolerable Incitement – What Gbagbo Said

In light of what has been made of them by French Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie and by the media that has pliantly disseminated her denunciation of Laurent Gbagbo’s alleged “outrageous” and “intolerable” disinformation and incitement, it is worth citing in full Mr. Gbagbo’s remarks from the Internet forum on and providing the context. Here then is a translation of the exchange between an anonymous visitor to the forum and Mr. Gbagbo:

“Question: On November 11, Monsignor Bernard Agré declared on Vatican Radio that he had seen in the hospitals of Abidjan the bodies of young people decapitated by the French army. What do you think of this claim? What do you plan to do ?"

“Laurent Gbagbo: The account given by the prelate has been repeated by all the persons who were at the siege of the Hotel Ivoire by the French army and by all those who have been in the hospitals. I was not myself there and I have not been in the hospitals, but everybody who has gone says it. One can consider that this testimony given by multiple persons is true. For the moment, what I am doing is to seek to calm things down, so that normal activities can start again. In one or two weeks, I will speak with my advisors to see what we will do.”

Note that it is the questioner who uses the expression “people decapitated by the French army”, which can easily be construed as implying an intentional act. Note too, as I have pointed out in the comments section to “Outrageous Intolerable Incitement”, that French has just one word – décapitation – for both the hands-on “beheadings” with which we have become grimly familiar from the practices of Al-Zarqawi et al in Iraq and (sorry, but this is what we are talking about) the action of removing a head from a body by whatever means. It is a form of this word – “jeunes gens décapités” – that is used by the questioner.

Gbagbo’s response does nothing more than lend credence to the reports that some of the victims of the Hotel Ivoire incident were “decapitated” in the general sense of the term. He does not say how and he nowhere suggests – which would indeed be “outrageous” because wildly implausible – that French soldiers wielding machetes or long knives, and leaving behind the relative protection of their barbed wire and armored vehicles, entered the crowd to do the deed. Moreover, a report which aired on Radio Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI) on November 11 explicitly speaks of French fire having “blown off the head” of a protestor (a “young girl”). There is no mention of any archaic hands-on beheadings. This report, incidentally, seemingly figures among the examples of “hate speech” and “incitement” in the Ivorian media denounced by the French authorities and the UN Secretariat. It does openly accuse the French military of “murder” and, more specifically, it accuses French army snipers of having fired upon the crowd from rooms on the 7th floor of the Hotel Ivoire. Whether this last charge constitutes “incitement” should presumably depend upon whether it is true or false, and, to my knowledge, the UN Secretariat has not announced findings of any investigation of the matter or even if it has undertaken any investigation.

President Gbagbo mentions “multiple persons” corroborating the reports of decapitated bodies. We have already come across the testimony of one high profile witness in the person of the Archbishop of Abidjan Bernard Agré. Moreover, in a November 14 report broadcast on Télévision Suisse Romande (hat tip again Seewen commenting on the Free Will Blog), a witness who is identified as “neither Ivorian nor French” and who claims to have viewed the events from the 21st floor of the Hotel Ivoire, also speaks of having seen a “women with her head torn off”. The same witness, incidentally, confirms the Ivorian charge that French snipers fired on the crowd from the 7th floor of the hotel. Then there are the videos and, on the site of RTI, still shots, some of which apparently taken from the videos. Be forewarned that these are extremely grisly. Two photos on the site (viewable here – again warning that other photos on the page are graphic and grisly) also appear to depict French ordnance. The caliber is such that it is, regrettably, not difficult to imagine it having the effect claimed. Perhaps all of this visual material does not depict what it seems to depict. But, then, the burden is surely on the French authorities and the UN authorities to demonstrate this before dismissing its broadcast as “incitement”.

In short, President Gbagbo’s remarks on the forum appear to have been factual statements, not “outrageous” “intolerable” disinformation and incitement. The French authorities' stylization of these remarks into “outrageous disinformation” has served, in effect, to create a smoke screen behind which the less spectacular, but plausible charges of the Ivorian authorities against the French military have passed largely unnoticed by the media. Whether this outcome was calculated, of course I cannot say.

For a discussion of some truly outrageous disinformation and incitement, see my earlier report on “American Beheaders (or How a Publicly-Financed Franco-German ‘Cultural’ Channel Creates Moral Equivalence between America and its Enemies)”. (Yes, I am trying to get new visitors to the site to go back and read this piece.)