The investigation into the fate of Mehdi Ben Barka was supposed to take big step forward this month after international arrest warrants were issued for four suspects.
But French prosecutors suspended the warrants a day later. Ben Barka's son and the only surviving lawyer in the case claim connivance at the highest levels in France and Morocco for the suspension and for keeping the case a mystery all these years.
"The same complicity by which my father disappeared in Paris, this complicity continues to stop justice from doing its work," Bachir Ben Barka said on France-Info radio. "Truth always frightens."
The wheels of justice have turned in fits and starts under six French presidents since Ben Barka was kidnapped on Oct. 29, 1965. The case has all the ingredients of a thriller, with gangsters, cops, double agents and seamy operatives allegedly working on behalf of a Moroccan king and the complicit French state.
Mehdi Ben Barka (born 1920 – disappeared October 29, 1965) was a Moroccan politician, head of the left-wing National Union of Popular Forces (UNPF) and secretary of the Tricontinental Conference. An opponent of Hassan II, he "disappeared" in Paris in 1965. As of 2009, the Ben Barka Affair has not been completely clarified, and investigations are on-going.
Ben Barka was born in Rabat, Morocco to a civil servant, and became the first Moroccan Muslim to get a degree in mathematics in an official French school in 1950. He became a prominent member of the Moroccan opposition in the nationalist Istiqlal party, but broke off after clashes with conservative opponents in 1959 to found the left-wing National Union of Popular Forces (UNFP).
In 1962, Ben Barka was accused of plotting against King Hassan II and exiled from Morocco, after supporting Algeria in 1963.
On October 29, 1965, Mehdi Ben Barka was abducted ("disappeared") in Paris by French police officers and never seen again. On Dec. 29, 1975, Time Magazine published an article called "The Murder of Mehdi Ben Barka", stating that three Moroccan agents were responsible for the death of Ben Barka, one of them former Interior Minister Mohammed Oufkir. Speculation persists as to CIA involvement. French intelligence agents and the Israeli Mossad were also involved, according to the Time magazine article.
The exile and global political significance
Ben Barka was exiled in 1963, becoming a “travelling salesman of the revolution”, according to the historian Jean Lacouture. He left initially for Algiers, where he met Che Guevara, Amilcar Cabral and Malcolm X. From there, he went to Cairo, Rome, Geneva and Havana, trying to unite the revolutionary movements of the Third World for the Tricontinental Conference held in January 1966 in Havana, where he affirmed in a press conference, “the two currents of the world revolution will be represented there: the current emerged with the October Revolution and that of the national liberation revolution”.
As the leader of the Tricontinental Conference, Ben Barka was a major figure in the Third World movement and supported revolutionary anti-colonial action in various states, provoking the anger of the United States and France. Just before his death, he was preparing the first meeting of the Tricontinental, scheduled to take place in Havana, Cuba - the OSPAAAL (Spanish for "Organization for Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia and Latin America") was founded on this occasion.
Chairing the preparatory commission, he defined the objectives; assistance with the movements of liberation, support for Cuba subjected to the United States embargo, the liquidation of the foreign military bases and apartheid in South Africa. For the historian René Galissot, “it is in this revolutionary dash of Tricontinentale that the major cause of the removal and the assassination of Ben Barka was”.
Ben Barka remains a revered figure in the Moroccan left-wing opposition, and as the exact circumstances of his disappearance and presumed death remain unknown, is still a subject of heated debate.
Theories on the disappearance of Ben Barka
In the 1960s Ben Barka's disappearance was enough of a "scandale publique" that President De Gaulle formally declared his government had not been responsible. After trial in 1967, two French officers were sent to prison for their role in the kidnapping. However, the judge ruled that the main guilty party was Moroccan interior minister Mohamed Oufkir. Georges Figon, a witness with a criminal background who had testified earlier that Oufkir stabbed Ben Barka to death, was later found dead, officially a suicide. Prefect of Police Maurice Papon (1910-2007), later convicted for crimes against humanity for his role under Vichy, was forced to resign following Ben Barka's kidnapping.
A former member of the Moroccan secret service, Ahmed Boukhari claimed in 2001 that Ben Barka had died during interrogation in a villa south of Paris. He said Ben Barka's body was then taken back to Morocco and destroyed in a vat of acid. Furthermore, he declared that this vat of acid, whose plans were reproduced by the newspapers, had been constructed under instructions from the CIA agent "Colonel Martin", who had learnt this technique to make corpses disappear during his appointment in the Shah's Iran in the 1950s. Henceforth, a pattern of "disappearances", starting from Iran, passing by Morocco in the 1960-70s, and continuing on into South America's dirty wars during the 1970s-80s was discovered.
Moroccan-French dissident and former Tazmamart prisoner of conscience Ali Bourequat claims in his book, In the Moroccan King's Secret Garden, to have met a former Moroccan secret agent in a prison near Rabat in 1973-74. The man, Dubail, recounted how he and some colleagues, led by Colonel Oufkir and Ahmed Dlimi, had murdered Ben Barka in Paris.
The body was then encapsulated in cement and buried outside Paris, but his head brought by Oufkir to Morocco in a suitcase. Thereafter, it was buried on the very same prison grounds where Dubail and Bourequat were held.
In 1976, the United States government, due to requests made through the Freedom of Information Act, acknowledged that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was in possession of some 1,800 documents involving Ben Barka, but the documents were not released.
Some secret French documents on the affair were made public in 2001, causing political uproar. Defence minister Michèle Alliot-Marie had agreed in 2004 to follow the recommendations of a national defence committee and release the 73 additional classified documents on the case. However, the son of Mehdi Ben Barka was outraged at what he called a "pseudo-release of files", insisting that information had been withheld which could have implicated the French secret services (SDECE), and possibly the CIA and the Mossad, as well as the ultimate responsibility of King Hassan II, who conveniently was able to put the blame on Oufkir after his failed coup in 1972.
Driss Basri, Interior Minister of Hassan II and his right-hand man from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, was heard by the judge Patrick Ramaël in May 2006, as a witness, concerning Ben Barka's kidnapping. Basri declared to the magistrate that he had not been linked to the Ben Barka Affair. He added that "it is possible that the King knew. It is legitimate to think that de Gaulle possessed some information..."