BY TERRY LAWSON
www.freep.com, November 8, 2007
The sad story of the United States' involvement in delaying the prosecution of war criminal Klaus Barbie, a.k.a. the Butcher of Lyon, for three decades is succinctly and painfully recalled in "My Enemy's Enemy," a documentary by Kevin Macdonald that's getting a three-day local engagement.
Macdonald, director of the true but partially re-created mountain-climbing saga "Touching the Void," makes little attempt at fairness in his retelling, through archival footage and interviews, of this incredible Cold War collusion of convenience, misjudgment and coldhearted self-interest.
Though "My Enemy's Enemy" contains no new revelations -- or accusations -- viewers unaware of Barbie's story might find themselves surprised and shocked. Those who know the basic facts might be impressed by the sheer volume of material collected and compiled by Macdonald.
He seemingly gathers every known fact, and, through witnesses, includes no small amount of speculation in revisiting the tale of the Gestapo official who, after ordering the execution of Jews and resistance members in German-occupied Lyon, France, managed to elude arrest. He avoided Nuremberg and even formulated plans for a Fourth Reich while living in Europe and then Argentina. This was accomplished as U.S. and European officials not only looked the other way but also -- in some cases -- offered him assistance and financing.
The justification is in the film's title: It was believed by government officials that the rabidly right-wing Barbie would be a valuable asset in the fight against the communist threat posed by the Russians. Barbie became a valued member of what was known as the Rat Line, a cabal of former Nazi officers who claimed to have valuable intelligence about their former countrymen in communist East Germany.
As documented in the recent CIA history "A Legacy of Ashes" and admitted by former agents interviewed for the film, agents were able to make careers out of their alleged assets and Barbie was able to provide enough tantalizing info, true or false, to protect himself.
"My Enemy's Enemy" also indicts the anti-Semitic influence inside the Vatican for helping Barbie elude Nazi hunters and getting him across borders. It also ties him to right-wing South American regimes in Peru and Bolivia, from which he was finally extradited in 1984. These regimes were linked to the CIA, but to Macdonald's credit, his film doesn't dissolve into crackpot conspiracy theory.
It may be that the most fascinating character is the enigmatic Jacques Verges, the leftist French lawyer who came forward to defend Barbie when he was finally brought to trial and convicted of war crimes in 1987. Though Verges argues here for every man's right to a defense, he is seen as something far more sinister in Barbet Schroeder's upcoming documentary "The Devil's Advocate." Barbie, who died in prison in 1991, may end up again being the most visible of fugitives.