Psychiatrists Zagury and Ballivet, during the trial for the Paris attacks.SERGIO AQUINDO FOR 'LE MONDE'
I regret calling Salah Abdeslam a knucklehead in a previous story.
First of all, you don't insult an unarmed man
Also, before letting my exasperation vent, I would have done better to await the report of Dr. Zagury, one of the psychiatrists who have examined the defendants and who have come to tell us about them for three days.
The mission of these psychiatrists is above all to say if they are criminally responsible and the answer is yes, they all are, none of them are crazy.
Most have settled for this, with more or less jargon and conviction.
But Zagury and his colleague Ballivet, who have dealt with Abdeslam, have gone further.
All the chronicles of Emmanuel Carrère on the trial of Paris
Daniel Zagury is a colossus with a bushy white mustache, immense experience and, in everything he says, a tremor of uncertainty which is exactly what we needed at this point in the trial.
The first thing he explains is that his expertise, his and Ballivet's, is weak because Adbeslam has refused to see them throughout the six years of investigation.
He also refused to speak to the judge, he was isolated, they moved him from one place to another blindfolded and in April 2017 he suffered a delusional episode: auditory hallucinations, fear of being poisoned by the jailers, obsession with glue, glue on the cell walls, glue on his skin and on his clothes, glue everywhere.
He did not accept the expert opinion until November 2021, when the trial had already begun.
He was polite, precise, dominating his word and his emotions.
He clearly stated why he had accepted and what he expected from the psychiatrists' report: that they show him in a more human light.
We also, throughout the trial, heard him complain that he was presented as a monster and not as the normal man that he was.
On the other hand, from the first day he did not show himself at all as that normal man, trapped in something terrible and bigger than himself, but as a fanatic saturated with irreducible religious and political certainties.
When asked what his profession was, he replied:
"Fighter of the Islamic State."
and the next day he took the floor to justify the attacks as a legitimate reply against France's aggression against Muslims.
He did not stop reciting this catechism that he shares with the most radical defendants in the trial, Osama Krayem or Sofien Ayari, except that the latter two are more consistent: after saying that they did not recognize any law other than that of Allah and not the authority of the infidels, exercised their right to silence and did not retract.
We were counting on him not to talk, but he did talk and visibly enjoyed talking.
She understood that we were absorbed in her word, that the interest of the trial depended in part on her, and she began to play with language, she kept quiet if the questions did not suit her, she distributed good and bad marks among the lawyers, she flattered and threatened —“
sometimes i speak and sometimes i don't
”—, to finish by solemnly announcing that he was going to tell the truth, the whole truth, and that the truth is that he had given up blowing up his explosives belt out of humanity and that he apologized to the victims.
Many, and I among them, only saw inconsistency, whimsy and even manipulation in these incessant changes of record.
When a lawyer for the civil part tries to force him to say this, Zagury shakes his head and opens his arms in a helpless gesture: it's not totally false, but it's not totally true either, what's more, he doesn't really believe that the things can be completely true or false.
What he can say is that he has examined many radicalized people and that, with the exception of a small percentage of sociopaths, they are sincere people, who have not been induced to kill because of insensitivity, but on the contrary, because they are receptive to the sufferings of others. Muslims in the world, especially in Syria.
Zagury recalls that evil is rarely perpetrated in the name of evil, but almost always in the name of good, and what a great psychic protection, what a narcissistic consolation it offers to a weak personality to adhere to a seamless belief system such as political-religious fanaticism. ;
in this sense, Islamism is the best within its reach.
As long as you're in there, you're not at risk.
Not even dying is serious, a short bad moment that must be passed and after which the gates of paradise are opened to the martyr.
Zagury insists on this of which I was not aware: the future martyrs believe in paradise with a hammer.
In all his interviews with radicalized detainees he asks them to describe him and they are always green meadows, murmuring streams, trees laden with fruit, tender and voluptuous houris, and instantly you are there.
Whether out of fear, compassion, or a mixture of both, Abdeslam didn't explode.
He was not up to the task.
The gates of paradise were closed again.
He had to do something that we call inhuman, that the jihadist doctrinaires call, for their part, superhuman, and he feels human, too human, perhaps even subhuman, and in any case not brave enough to take on the dangerous role deserter.
Consequently, he is forced to tell something more or less acceptable to his comrades, who are also his superiors.
He had to lie, get involved in lies, and this is also true for his double and his vassal, Mohamed Abrini.
From November 14 to now, he oscillates between these two representations of himself:
the heroic fighter who has had a bad run and the poor misguided devil from Molenbeek who has at one point gone the wrong way.
We see him on the bench go from one role to another, in an oscillation that exasperates us, but must be exhausting and even excruciating for him.
He doesn't know what face to show, he doesn't know who he is.
Add to this that the star of this gigantic trial feels, as a lawyer friend diagnoses: “
No doubt they make him wear a hat too big for him, but as his head has swollen
Now, we ask Zagury, what can we expect?
Once all these successive, fluctuating sincerities have been formulated throughout the trial, how will Abdeslam evolve after the verdict and whatever the verdict?
Is it reinsertable?
Zagury's new sigh: we don't know, can't know, never know while someone is alive.
Still, there seems to be a conflict.
The choice is for him to remain in the armor of God's soldier, and somehow not be in any danger, or to go back to being the poor boy from Molenbeek.
Either he denies the totalitarian system in which he is locked up or he denies himself.
Either he decides to toughen up even more or he risks self-doubt and opening up.
He shows that he wants to open up, that's why he accepted the expert opinion during the trial,
but he also perceives the risk of a narcissistic collapse, a massive depression if he cracks the shell.
The fact that you are aware of this conflict is already enormous progress.
Something is moving that Zagury and Ballivet may have seen better in two and a half hours of interview than we, at least I, in seven months of trial.
In this succession of contradictory positions we see a man evolve and search for himself, and God knows that experts are often unexperts, but it is good that there were two to remind the court of this great truth - not the strong point of the justice—which is ambivalence.
Until the end of this long and exciting expert report, there have been lawyers who have asked the questions that they had prepared before coming and that they would not have asked if they had listened: but hey, doctor, enlighten us.
Abdeslam is this?
Abdeslam is the other?
And Zagury shrugs the width of his shoulders and answers, with a good-natured weariness: “
What do you want me to tell you?
Both things... As they say today in political life: at the same time
Translation by Jaime Zulaika.
This chronicle, written for
Le Nouvel Observateur
, is published in
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