Will France adopt controversial Israeli practice to deter terrorism?

As France is faced with new terror threats, a top counter-terror expert and opposition MP from the country is lobbying for Israeli-style administrative detention.

French police stationed near Eifel Tower (photo credit: BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)
French police stationed near Eifel Tower
(photo credit: BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)
A top anti-terror French opposition parliament member dropped a political bombshell on Wednesday saying of his country, “we need to have administrative detention,” and that he will visit Israel’s detention center at Ofer Prison as a possible model.
The official, MP Georges Fenech, head of the French Parliamentary Special Commission into terror attacks in France, made the surprising comments at the IDC Herzliya Conference on Counter-Terrorism on the university’s campus.
“I know as a judge that it is hard” to reduce civil liberties,” he said. “But when someone is on the S register, not the 15,000 [suspicious] people, the first few hundred on list – should we wait for them to act or should we act before them? “If you want to insist, you can wait for them to have a lawyer, but in the meantime people are killed. Or you can sacrifice a little of your freedom, arrest them before they act, put them in detention centers to evaluate how dangerous they are.”
The French MP added that “all of this is in the framework of the law.”
Countering anticipated criticism, Fenech noted how “people said you want to build a French Guantanamo. Of course not. There is no detention without control. We don’t want people humiliated. We want the minister of the Interior, when he wants to decide to put someone in administrative detention, that within 48 hours a judge will approve the decision with information provided by the intelligence services.”
Further, he said, “the detention will be limited in time.
This is the main debate today in France.”
He explained that the opposition, including his preferred candidate Nicholas Sarkozy, wants to maintain democracy, but thinks France must do far more to protect the country against terror, even if it means rolling back some freedoms. In contrast, he said France’s ruling party has made only minor and insufficient legal changes to fight terrorism.
“On the Left, they think everything has been done, and if we do any more, we will hurt democracy. In the opposition, like me, we think democracy must adapt to the threat,” he said.
Under current polling, the opposition would win the 2017 elections.
The Foreign Ministry was unsure of the details regarding Fenech’s unusual announced visit to Ofer.
Earlier, Fenech also complimented Israel’s security regime at Ben-Gurion Airport as an example for other countries to copy to improve their security, and noted his meeting with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to improve terror-fighting techniques.
Besides his discussion of Israel, Fenech also gave a detailed post-mortem on what had gone wrong for French intelligence to miss stopping the major terror attacks in recent years and what needed to change.