The French government steps up its game

On Sunday, I posted a discussion by Paris lawyer (and Power Line reader) James Gillespie of the measures taken by the French government in response to the Paris attacks, and the legal underpinnings of these measures. Since then, of course, the government has conducted a highly visible (and successful) raid in Saint Denis, just outside of Paris. This, one strongly suspects, is just the tip of the iceberg.

To get a better handle on the scope of the French response, I offer the following discussion graciously provided by James:

When I wrote on Sunday, I mentioned that it would be interesting to see to what extent the French government used the very extensive powers that it was granted pursuant to the declaration of a state of emergency. There are now several early indications.

(a) There have been a huge number (several hundred) searches conducted in Paris, Toulouse, Lyon and other French cities over the last 72 hours. The number and rapidity of the searches would seem to suggest that prior to the attacks, authorities had a large number of leads, but either for legal or manpower reasons were unable to vigorously prosecute those leads.

The state of emergency allows searches to be conducted at any time and any place, on the authority of the prefect of Minister of the Interior. (In comparison, French law typically prohibits searches of personal residences at night, other than in exceptional circumstances, and searches typically require a prosecutor or judge to issue a warrant.)

(b) A significant number of people have been arrested (the exact number is hard to determine and not entirely public, but certainly in excess of a dozen and probably many more).

Under the current system, individuals may be arrested and held in custody or placed under house arrest, on the sole authority of the prefect or Minister of the Interior. Such detention orders can be challenged in administrative (not criminal) courts, but the challenge can take some time (up to two months).

Under the standard system, detention of any kind must be authorized by a specialized judge (the judge of liberty and detention), and in practice it is rare for accused to be held pending trial.

(c) Military assistance in police operations seems to have increased.

As you may have seen, a several-hour-long siege and gun battle occurred this morning in Saint Denis, a suburb just north of Paris. The operation apparently was an attempt to detain the chief culprit of the November 13th attacks. Two presumed terrorists are reported dead (one having blown herself up with a suicide vest) and several officers were wounded. [Note: Reports now say that the chief culprit is among the dead]

Official reports for the moment state that the operation was carried out by the RAID and GIGN. The RAID is a tactical branch of the National Police; the GIGN is a similar unit under the Gendarmerie (these units could be compared to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team). Both report to the Ministry of the Interior.

However, various eye-witness statements and photos report a substantial military participation in this operation. If so, it would be significant. While the French Army is not constitutionally restricted from internal police actions (regular Army patrols are routinely seen in airports and downtown tourist areas, and the military coordinates intelligence exchange with the police) their role is typically limited to surveillance. Their use in this scenario, if confirmed, would indicate a definite change in strategy.