Interview with Mehdi Ben Barka's Son Bachir

November, 1999

To begin with, and particularly for the younger generation who may not know of the Ben Barka "affair", could you relate the circumstances of the kidnapping of your father?

On Friday 29th October 1965, at 12.30 pm, Mehdi Ben Barka, my father, had an appointment at the Brasserie Lipp, on the boulevard Saint Germain, in Paris, with a journalist, a film producer and a scriptwriter, to discuss the preparation of a film about national liberation movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The film was to be shown at the opening of the Tricontinental Conference in Havana in January 1966. The title of the film was to be Basta!

This appointment was a trap. Before his arrival at the Brasserie, my father was stopped by two French policemen, who showed their police cards and asked him to follow them. He got into their official car. He was calm and confident. But in this car were other individuals, an agent, or "honourable corespondent" according to the conventional expression, of the SDECE, that is to say the French secret services, and a criminal, a henchman. The SDECE agent was wearing a false mustache and a wig so that my father, who knew him, would not recognize him.

The car moved off in the direction of the suburbs to the south of Paris, to Fontenay-le-Vicomte to be precise, and stopped in front of the house of a notorious gangster, Georges Boucheseiche. From this point on, I would say, certainties end and speculation begins as to what then happened to my father. What is known is that General Oufkir, the Moroccan Minister of the Interior, was informed that the "parcel" had been delivered. His deputy, commander Ahmed Dlimi, was also informed. The following day, they both arrived in Paris.

There were various comings and goings at the house. We do not know exactly who by, but we do know that from this time on we lose all trace of my father. We can suppose that he was assassinated, but we don't know who who killed him, nor how, nor the whereabouts of his corpse. Was the corpse kept in France, or was it sent to Morocco? Or else, as some people claim, was the Mossad, the Israeli secret services, charged with getting rid of it? To this day, 34 years after the events, we still have no definite answers to these questions.

From the outset, the elimination of my father was one of the political objectives of the Moroccan authorities. This objective resulted in several attempted assassinations and two official death sentences. The ideas my father developed were seen as a political alternative to those of the regime which had shown it's bankruptcy socially and economically.

The Moroccan regime was not alone in this affair. It was helped from within the French secret services and by the crooks who worked for them. Coordinated action between French and Moroccan police had already been used against the Moroccan opposition in France. There was also involvement by the Mossad which gave at least "logistical" support to the Moroccan secret services in the perpetration of the crime. Numerous investigations carried out in Israel, in France, and in the United States enable us to confirm categorically the involvement of the Mossad in this affair. From 1967 onwards, revelations in the Israeli press about the involvement of the Mossad in the assassination of my father indicate that this led to an important crisis in the government and even to the resignation of the Israeli Prime Minister at that time.

One can also assume that the CIA was involved in one way or another. My father was preparing, in 1965, the Tricontinental Conference which was to bring together representatives of national liberation movements and progressive parties from Africa, Asia and Latin America. At the time, many African countries were still under colonial rule. Apartheid still held sway in South Africa. Portugal still had it's colonial possessions and even in those countries which had gained their independence, important mass struggles were developing. The Havana conference was to lay the basis for concerted solidarity action between these different struggles. Mehdi Ben Barka was the Chairman of the committee preparing this initiative and his activity could not escape the attention of the most powerful imperialist country. The conference was held in January 1966 but, unfortunately, without the man who had prepared it.

We have no concrete proof of the involvement of the USA. The American magazine Time has revealed that in April-May 1965, the Moroccan authorities submitted an official request through the US Embassy in Morocco asking the American government for help in "picking up" my father. We have no trace of the answer to this request. However, by making use of the channels opened up by the Freedom of Information Act, an American law which enables citizens, in certain cases, to consult secret files relating to them, we learned that the CIA archives contain, under the name of Mehdi Ben Barka, some 1800 documents of three or four pages each. We almost managed to gain access to these documents, but at the last minute, the procedure was canceled, on the grounds that their declassification would be harmful to the national security of the United States.

In the 1960's, given the character of the Gaullist regime, with the activities of gangster elements working for it and of the Service d'Action Civique, one can easily understand the need to hide the truth about this assassination at all costs. But since that time, François Mitterrand was elected in 1981, followed by many years of left governments. Did that change anything relating to the use of so-called "Defense Secrets" to justify the refusal to open the files?

To be frank, in any case up to the present time, that changed nothing at all in relation to our quest for the truth. To begin with, in 1965, we filed a law suit for "kidnapping" which led to a court case but which got us no further in terms of finding out the truth. A second law suit was filed in 1975, for murder, which is still underway. This means that there are a number of juges d'instruction who have been working on this case now for 24 years! But we are still refused access to the "Ben Barka files" held by the French secret services. Back in 1975, we argued that, 10 years after the event, the state no longer had any valid reason to hide the truth, and that "reasons of state" were no longer a credible pretext for preventing the judges from obtaining the files. And yet to this day, 34 years later, these same "reasons of state" are still used to prevent us - I say "us", that is the wife, the children and relatives of the victim - from knowing what exactly happened to my father.

En 1965, General de Gaulle himself, just a few days after the kidnapping, wrote to my grandmother, assuring her that everything possible would be done, "with diligence" as he put it, to bring the truth to light. We know how much came of that. "Reasons of state" got the better of that particular undertaking. François Mitterrand, candidate in the presidential elections at the time, at a meeting held at the Mutualité, under a banner of the "Committee for the Truth about the Ben Barka Affair" demanded that the facts should be published and the guilty parties brought to justice. Jean Lecanuet, the centre-right candidate, made similar declarations. In 1974, Giscard d'Estaing appointed Lecanuet as Minister of Justice, and we reminded him of his former pledge. We asked that he should allow the judges to have access to the files without obstruction under the pretext of reasons of state. We received no reply.

The victory of François Mitterrand in the presidential elections of 1981 gave us new hope. This hope seemed to be well-founded when, in 1982, Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy ordered the DGESE (formerly the SDECE) to deliver the Ben Barka files to the investigating judge. But as it turned out, only about one third of the files were handed over. The remaining two-thirds, about 270 files in all, were withheld on state security grounds.

So who decides what constitutes a "defense secret", and what does not?

Good question! Indeed we do not know to this day if the decision by the secret services not to hand over these files was on their own initiative or whether the possibility of withholding them was implicitly allowed for in the Prime Minister's instruction. Can the secret services ignore a government order? Or did Pierre Mauroy issue an order allowing for safeguards? We have no answer to this question.

Since 1982, we have used whatever channels were open to us. The investigating judge has intervened many times on our behalf to convince successive Defense Ministers to lift the "defense secret" clause covering the files, but to no avail, and often without even so much as an answer. Through our lawyers, and also directly as a family, we appealed to François Mitterrand and his Prime Ministers, without any positive result and, as I have said, often without any reply at all. When Jacques Chirac was elected, I wrote to him asking that he should use his position as head of the armed forces to lift the restrictions but, there again, to no avail. It seems to be a total black-out, a black-out which has been applied right up until these last few weeks.

How do you explain this wall of silence?

It seems to me that there are two possible explanations, which are, in any case, both totally unacceptable to us. The first is that bringing out the truth about the assassination of my father would be too compromising for the Moroccan regime. "Reasons of state" would, in this case, mean the protection of good relations between France and Morocco.

The other eventuality would be that the files would show a greater degree of involvement by the French secret services in the kidnapping and perhaps even in the murder of Mehdi Ben Barka than has hitherto been supposed. Whatever may be the case, the fact that a government should use "reasons of state" to hide the truth about a political assassination is totally unacceptable.

It was announced on television recently that the secret files could at long last be opened shortly. Is that so?

The new development is that, a few days ago, we were informed that the consultative commission on defense secrets which was set up under the July 1998 law is to present it's recommendations concerning the Ben Barka files before the end of the year. This legislation was introduced under pressure of public opinion against the scandalous use of the "defense secret" classification as a cover for protecting the interests of the state. However, this commission, as it's name suggests, is only a consultative body. It is for the Minister of Defense or the Prime Minister to decide whether this classification concerning the assassination of my father should be lifted or maintained. To allow, at long last, the opening of these files would be nothing more than justice, a justice which we demand out of respect for the fighter for liberty that my father was, because car Mehdi Ben Barka was killed on account of his devotion to the cause of progress, democracy and human dignity.

Our struggle is also a duty to his family and to historical truth. That is why, 34 years after his death, we continue our combat to bring out the truth about the death of my father.

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