Monday, February 20, 2006

David Irving Pleads Guilty in Austria to Holocaust Denial

London Times correspondent Roger Boyes has posted these interesting observations about the goings on in the Vienna courtroom where Briton David Irving pled guilty this morning to the criminal charge of denying the Holocaust. Irving faces up to ten years in jail for speeches he gave in Austria in 1989 in which he claimed that the Holocaust never happened:

It's becoming like a free speech seminar. You've got al-Jazeera here, you've got Jyllands-Posten [Danish newspaper], all the people affected by the cartoon war. Everyone one is asking why it's taboo to attack the Holocaust but not to attack the Prophet Muhammad. But the case is being fought on the detail of what he said, testing whether he's really retreating, whether his apologies are really worth anything, whether we can believe in Irving's remorse.

Mr Irving arrived with a phalanx of black-shirted riot police 20 minutes before the trial started, held up his book, Hitler's War, and basically held an impromptu press conference in which he dismissed the trial as ridiculous, saying it was 16 or 17 years since he made these comments.

When he got into court, the audience was a mixture of law students, concentration camp survivors and right-wing sympathisers - including a couple from Britain. But there was no unruliness.

Irving walked in with a swagger but soon ended pushed up against the wall in cross-questioning by the judge that forced him to apologise or express regret for almost every utterance he had made over the past 20 years. He admitted saying in 1989 that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz. But he is saying that since he saw various documents in 1992 he has changed his mind and now accepts that Jews were killed.

It's a jury trial and Irving keeps on making references to his daughter, hoping that he will get a suspended sentence so he can leave Austria tonight. But the judge is pushing him all the time, demanding apologies - he's being even tougher than the prosecutor.

The essential weakness of Irving's case is that the libel case in London, which finished in 2000, showed him even then to be a distorter of the historical truth and exposed lots of his arguments as false. So it's hard for him to claim that he stopped being a Holocaust denier back in 1992.

So he's pleaded guilty and is claiming that he's changed his spots. The judge, through his tough questioning, is trying to challenge that - and, in so doing, is trying to influence the jury to impose a custodial sentence.