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European Press Review: Back to Justice

European editorials on Wednesday looked at the Democratic Convention in Boston and the release of four French nationals imprisoned by the US in Guantanamo Bay.

Referring to Bill Clinton’s guest appearance at the Convention, Britain’s Independent wrote that John Kerry will need every drop of Clinton’s charisma and energy in what is going to be a desperately close-fought contest. The paper added that as he strode towards the podium – even before he had uttered a word – the former president displayed for the roaring crowd before him those unmatched political skills. His energy and his effortless smile, his upraised hand and the hug with his wife who had just introduced him were the work of a hugely talented communicator.

Another British daily, the Financial Times, said that with John Kerry busy explaining how his policies would differ from George W. Bush’s, there is growing concern among White House watchers, domestically and abroad, that public opinion polls have become the main pillar of US policy making. It went on to say that with the US electorate not always well-informed about the issues and the mainstream US media unwilling to state unpopular truths, the process of superpower management becomes nothing but pandering to the changeable moods of the crowd.

Several of France’s papers devoted their attention to the release of French nationals from Guantanamo Bay. Four of seven French citizens captured by US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan were handed over and on Tuesday flown back to France, where they were immediately taken into custody. "What’s to be done with the Frenchmen from Guantanamo," asked the Paris daily Le Figaro in its main headline. The release of the four men marks "the beginning of a long judicial process" as France waits to see if they will be charged or released through its own legal system, the paper wrote.

Another French daily, Liberation, headlined the handing over of the detainees: "Return to the law zone," it wrote, commenting that the least they deserve after their two-year detention without charge in Guantanamo is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The four were in the wrong place at the wrong time and with the wrong people -- Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda foreign legionnaires -- but that is not a crime, the paper wrote. And one thing is certain: If the US had had the slightest evidence against them, it would never have released them, according to the paper. It criticized the Bush administration for setting aside the law and lowering the standard of personal liberty and says France must therefore refuse to follow that example and offer the four alleged militants “the most scrupulous legal guarantees.”

Le Monde adopted an equally critical stance, saying that the fate of the four will in the end depend on justice. France may have an anti-terrorist justice system, but at least it is one that adheres to the rule of law and bases its decisions on tangible facts, the paper wrote. If the men are acquitted, it will be a fresh blow for the credibility of George Bush’s 'war on terror' that is being fought in contempt of the law -- both national and international -- and of morality, the paper concluded.