Hassan Diab


Canada's shameful Dreyfus Affair

By Shannon Lee Mannion
Special to True North Perspective
Originally published in Peace and Environment News
Hassan Diab enters Ottawa's Elgin Street court-house in December 2010.  

The complex situation involving Hassan Diab, a Lebanese-born Canadian citizen whom France is trying to extradite for an alleged crime committed 30 years ago in Paris shares startling similarities to that of the Dreyfus Affair more than 100 years ago.

Alfred Dreyfus (1850-1935), a Captain in the French army, was an accomplished man from a well-to-do Jewish family who owned a textile plant in Alsace. In 1894, he was arrested and charged with treason and espionage. These charges are akin to what we currently call terrorism in that allegations of damage to state security are often cited.
Hassan Diab (1953- ), a university professor and Muslim, was born in Beirut, Lebanon, where he studied Sociology, initially at the American University in Beirut and subsequently, relocating to the USA where he earned a PhD from Syracuse University. He moved to Canada in 1993 and took up residency in Ottawa in 2006. He has taught at several universities in the Ottawa area including Carleton and Ottawa universities. He was arrested in 2008 for alleged participation in a bombing that took place outside a synagogue in Paris in 1980.
I am going to delineate six similarities between these two cases. Much of my information about Captain Dreyfus has been gleaned from the Internet and information pertaining to Dr. Hassan Diab, also from Internet submissions but additionally, empirical knowledge from attendance at the extradition hearings in Ottawa.
There may be other similarities but these will be discussed here:

1) Validity of evidence

2) Termination of livelihood

3) Handwriting analysis

4) Religious persecution

5) History of travel

6) Support from citizenry

Captain Dreyfus was arrested in 1894 after a cleaning lady who worked at the German Embassy in Paris produced, from the wastepaper basket of the German military attache, six hand-written paper fragments which when reassembled formed a “bordereau” or document that had information about France's artillery. Because Dreyfus had access to such information and there was controversy surrounding the handwriting, he was arrested. According to one internet source, there were allegations made by some military officers who provided confidential evidence. He was denied the right to examine the incriminating evidence and found guilty in a secret military court-martial which saw him stripped of his commission and placed in solitary confinement on Devil's Island off the coast of South America.
Dr. Diab was arrested in 2008 after evidence was received through inter-country intelligence (Germany and possible middle-Eastern countries) alleging that he was involved 28 years earlier with putting explosive material in motorcycle saddlebags which detonated outside the synagogue on Copernic St, Paris, killing four people and injuring many others. The validity of this evidence is called into question because it is possible that it may have been obtained using torture.
Dr. Diab lost his livelihood when Carleton University summarily canceled his contract. The Canadian Association of University Teachers had this response:
"The Canadian Association of University Teachers condemns in the strongest possible terms the Carleton University administration’s unjust termination of the contract of Dr. Hassan Diab. The university’s actions show a blatant disregard of the principles of natural justice and due process.”
Handwriting analysis played a significant role in the Dreyfus case. There may have been some similarity between his handwriting and that on the document and this, coupled with prevalent anti-Semitism in the military and circumstantial evidence, his access to artillery files plus the fact that he traveled back and forth to Alsace to visit his family, the inference being that he had political connections, sealed his fate.
For Diab, the similarities between a signature, not even his, on a hotel registry and handwriting from his student days in Syracuse, are evidence of his culpability although, to date, two European hand-writing experts' reports have been disqualified and a third report is being sought.
As in the Dreyfus case, handwriting is what the Crown calls, the smoking gun.
In 1894, when a discarded document ostensibly became evidence, someone had to be accountable. Who better than a Jewish subaltern with ties to Germany (his family's Alsace home). In 2010, we see a respected Muslim professor suspected of treachery three decades ago.
Inasmuch as Dreyfus had few defenders among his confreres, so to are there few people from 30 years ago to corroborate Diab's insistence that he was not in Paris during the bombings so he could not have bought the Suzuki that harboured the bomb nor take a room at the Celtic Hotel. But someone must be blamed and who better than a Muslim who is reputed to have been a member of the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine in 1980.
The political scandal surrounding L'affaire Dreyfus, saw French society taking sides with the government and the right-wing upholding the guilty verdict while intellectuals, academics and others on the left fighting the conviction.
Author, Emil Zola, risked freedom when he published J'accuse, a 5,000 word intentionally libelous open letter to the government. The resultant tumult lead to intense discussion and critical examination of the case and, eventually, to Dreyfus being pardoned in 1899.
Zola wrote: This is how the case proceeded, like some fifteenth century chronicle, shrouded in mystery, swamped in all manner of nasty twists and turns, all stemming from one trumped-up charge, that stupid bordereau. This was not only a bit of cheap trickery but also the most outrageous fraud imaginable, for almost all of these notorious secrets turned out in fact to be worthless.
It is inconclusive how the Diab case will end as the hearing will last into February. On December 13/10, the Defense called the first of three hand-writing experts who will testify that the signature on the hotel registration card is unlike Diab's handwriting. In these times of uncertainty, perhaps someone will come forward and categorically prove that he was not in Paris on that terrible day. This would be yet another similarity with the Dreyfus case given the unexpected testimony of a French army officer who discovered that it was another officer who was guilty of violating allegiance to France by handing over that document.
In the meantime, Hassan Diab has ongoing support from around the world including nine organizations which have spoken out on his behalf and at least 21 who have signed a statement which has the sub-heading, A Shock to Our Conscience and an Affront to Liberty. More than 250 individuals have also signed including scores of academics and union members and hundreds more who stand for social justice and human rights.
The case has been suspended for the past month while the judge attends to other matters. Court resumes on Monday, February 7/11.
You can find the list at http://www.justiceforhassandiab.org/signatories and for additional information at http://www.justiceforhassandiab.org/links.