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The investigation of Captain Targe

The investigation of Captain Targe

The government's decision

Early in 1900, a police inquiry into false testimony at Rennes was discontinued because the government wished for "forgetfulness that would lead to appeasement and to reconciliation" and considered that agitation would be "disastrous for the country." Even before the deputies had adopted the Chapuis resolution that left the choice of action to the government, Minister of War, General André, told them to stand by the Rennes decision, even if "it could not, at any time, have been a happy thing to convict a French officer for the most heinous of crimes." Nevertheless, he acknowledged that "the conscience of this country has been singularly troubled by the appearance of extenuating circumstances in a crime of this nature"; in the same spirit, he announced that the government intended to "facilitate, as much as possible, the search for and substantiation of the truth in this affair."

Since the minister had stated that he was in favor of an administrative inquiry, Alfred Dreyfus asked him as "commander-in-chief of military justice," to "call for an investigation," since his exclusion from the amnesty of 17 December 1900 "left the doors of the Court of Cassation open to him" in order to allow him to continue to seek his legal rehabilitation. His letter dated 21 April 1903 mentioned the abuse of authority of 1894 and its reappearance in 1899; Dreyfus wished to shed light on the use of the annotated bordereau and of perjured witnesses at Rennes. There was no follow-up to this letter, since on 7 April General André had decided to open a personal investigation, which he entrusted to his aide-de-camp. Worried about what the military hierarchy would think, André was "persuaded that the Army should stake its honor on definitively shedding light on this affair, so that the uncertainty created in the minds of all by the decree admitting extenuating circumstances to a crime of high treason can finally be cleared up."

The investigation's conclusions

The work of Captain Targe began on 4 June and was finished in three months. Marcel Thomas defined it as "a methodical search in the Rue Saint-Dominique archives (the ministry's headquarters) to establish a truly complete dossier, which the Court of Cassation would use during the second review." On 19 October, the Minister of War was able to provide a brief summary of the inquiry. He stated that a number of forgeries were still to be found in the Ministry's offices, that some evidence had been altered, that there were erroneous commentaries, that exculpating documents had been hidden, and that others were "receptacles for every sort of gossip from dismissed servants and malicious concierges."

On 22 November, Jaurès communicated a part of these conclusions to Alfred Dreyfus, who praised the investigator for "his wisdom and ardor in the search for the truth." Told that the dossier had been transferred to the Ministry of Justice, Dreyfus wrote to the minister on the 26th to request review of the decree of the Rennes court martial, "an inexplicable conviction after the decree of the combined chambers of the Court of Cassation (…) pronounced based on forged documents and false witnesses." At 6:30 p.m. on 26 November 1903, Mornard registered the request for appeal at the chancellery of the Ministry of Justice; the next day, the minister passed it to the president of the review commission.


Captain Targe at the Ecole Militaire

Truth nears its goal, 30 November 1903