…The premier, Charles Aexandre Dupuy, the foreign minister, Gabriel Hanotux, and other cabinet colleagues whom Mercier consulted, had advised against hasty action in the case: the reactions of both the French public and the German Kaiser were dangerously unpredictable. Gen. Saussier, under whose jurisdiction the trial would be held, had recommended sending the suspected traitor to get himself killed on the Tunisian border. Moreover, Dreyfus’s arrest violated a cardinal rule of counterespionage procedure, because, if he were guilty, it gave warning to his possible accomplices.
Though Mercier pressed both Sandherr and Du Paty, the pseudo handwriting expert and full-time crackpot,who Mercier inexplicably assigned as a preliminary investigating officer, to find proof of Dreyfus’s guilt, the case against him remained full of holes. His trial opened on December 1, in camera, and produced no convincing new evidence. The attitude of the judges at its close indicated that he would be released.
The decisive factor in the conviction of Dreyfus, as we now know, was a sealed envelope containing a War Ministry memorandum slipped by Du Paty to the president of the court shortly before the judges retired to consider their verdict. It embodied two main elements: Du Paty’s own report and conclusions on his investigation, and a mixed collection of data assembled by Col. Jean Sandherr.
The Statistical Section’s contribution included an intercepted note from Schwartzkoppen to Panizzardi alluding to “that scoundrel D-” later identified as a ministry clerk who had been peddling classified French maps, and two reports from an undercover informant of Col. Henry’s, warning of an unidentified “wolf or two in your sheepfold.” Henry had doctored one of these reports so that it pointed explicitly to Dreyfus.
By themselves neither Sandherr’s file nor Du Paty’s report- a windy essay on the psychological indications of Dreyfus’s guilt- carried much conviction.Gen. Auguste Mercier had them amalgamated and ordered a sharper edge given to Du Paty’s flaccid prose. Then, in a few pseudo-objective sentences, he gave his own “inference”: the facts might apply to Capt. Dreyfus. It was a thinly disguised recommendation from the war minister, regarded by the army as its supreme authority, to the colonels, captains, and majors of the court to convict Dreyfus.
Justice Michael Kirby, Australia:In its day, the Dreyfus trials and their aftermath were like the Petrov case, the Lindy Chamberlain saga, the ordeal of David Hicks, the Mallard case, and the trial of Saddam Hussein, all wrapped into one. Yet none of those events, nor anything we have seen in Australia, is exactly like the ordeal to which Alfred Dreyfus was subjected. In its time, that ordeal became an illustration of how human institutions can go wrong, human justice can fail and pride and patriotism can swamp concern for the individual. All too easily, this can happen when that individual is a member of a minority subjected to irrational hatred – as Dreyfus, the Jew, was and as others in the century that followed have been.
The Dreyfus case was a warning of the Holocaust, of the show trials of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, and of the occasional failings of elected democracies that marked the twentieth century. It was a warning that was not sufficiently recognised a century ago. We do well to reflect on it today so that we do not repeat its mistakes. There are few in Australia today who remember the details of Dreyfus’s case. We know vaguely of the long controversy that divided France, of his banishment to Devil’s Island, of the brave band of supporters who never lost faith in his innocence, of the anti-semitism that played a part in hinviction and of the long time it took to clear his name. But we do not know the details.
It is in the detail that the wrongs of the Dreyfus affair are to be found. The greatest wrong was not the mistaken conviction of Dreyfus for treason. Human justice makes human errors. No human effort is immune from error. What was important was how the conviction came
about in the first place; how it was reconfirmed in the face of overwhelming evidence; and how ultimately institutions of government and other powerful forces elevated the insistence on Dreyfus’ conviction above the proof of his innocence. Maintaining his guilt became a badge of honour for elements in the army, the Church, the government and the population at large. Even today in France, streets and statues that honour Dreyfus are desecrated. In France, murders still happen that are attributed to anti-semitism. Closer to home, violence against ethnic and
religious minorities shocks Australians who are convinced that the national acceptance of multicultural ideals will spare Australia from the
worst of such prejudice.
So come back a hundred years to when the Dreyfus affair was still on the lips of most informed people, even in Australia. How did it happen? Why should contemporary Australians give any thought to events that occurred so long ago and so far away? Sources of anti-semitism: To find the answers to these questions it is necessary to dig deep into an infantile tendency of human beings. A root cause of the Dreyfus affair was anti-semitism. A fear and hatred of Jews in France arose because of several factors: their minority numbers; their exclusive, counter majoritarian, habits; their involvement in money lending and finance; their often unusual clothing; their distinct culinary habits; and their disproportionate educational and professional success. Above all, there was the supposed “blood guilt” of Jews for the death of Jesus Christ. The foundation for this blood guilt was a passage in St Matthew’s Gospel, when Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, offered to release Jesus but the Jewish people of Jerusalem chose Barrabas and said to Pilate, of Jesus, “His blood be on us, and on our children”. On those nine words was hung a terrible hatred.
The hatred was reinforced, until recent times, by prayers in church services at Easter for the conversion of “the perfidious Jews”; by deep
feelings of animosity towards the Jews amongst many Christians and others; and by governmental, political and church attitudes that fuelled
anti-semitism throughout Europe and beyond. Read More:http://www.hcourt.gov.au/assets/publications/speeches/former-justices/kirbyj/kirbyj_26mar06.pdf