Release Date: July 3, 2001
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

Retired Torturer Reveals France's Crimes

by Eric Margolis

PARIS -- Justice is closing in on at least some of those who committed crimes against humanity.

A Belgian court recently convicted four Rwandan Hutus of genocide. Also in Belgium, Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is being charged with crimes against humanity by survivors of the 1982 massacre of a thousand Palestinian civilians in Beirut. Last week, Serb despot Slobodan Milosevic was handed over to the UN War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague; more senior Serb war criminals are likely to follow.

The most interesting current case, however, is here in France, where an 83-year old retired general, Paul Aussaresses, has publicly admitted, even boasted, that he supervised torture, summary executions, and assassinations during the bloody 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence.

In his book, `Special Services: Algeria 1955-1957,' Aussaresses blows the lid off one of France's best-kept secrets, and its darkest hours; its brutal, often criminal, repression of Algerians fighters and civilians seeking independence from French colonial rule.

This subject has particular poignancy for me. As a 17-year old student in Europe, I organized and led demonstrations supporting Algerian independence. My life was repeatedly threatened by a shadowy group of killers known as the `Red Hand,' who, it was later revealed, were `barbouzes,' or deep-cover agents of SDECE, France's ruthless intelligence service.

The book has ignited a firestorm in France, and produced demands by rights groups the general to be charged with crimes against humanity. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, sounding very much like Claude Raines in `Casablanca,' said he was `shocked and revolted.' President Jacques Chirac called the book `shameful,' demanding the general be stripped of his rank and medals.

Both leaders and most French over the age of 50 are perfectly well aware of what occurred in Algeria. France's establishment wants Aussaresses punished for bringing embarrassing attention to a dreadful era France has covered up or forgotten - not for his actual crimes.

The Algerian uprising was marked by `terrorist attacks' (in today's media usage) against French settlers and pro-French Algerians, and guerilla warfare between 400,000 French colonial troops and fighters of the National Liberation Front (FLN). The current Palestinian intidafa against Israeli rule resembles in some ways the 1950's Algerian struggle.

As the uprising spread to major cities, France's socialist government ordered the army to use all means to crush the rebels.

Concentration camps were established across Algeria. Borders were sealed with minefields and electrified wire. SDECE was ordered to identify and destroy the FLN's leadership. Aussaresses, then a senior officer of SDECE's `action service,' a top-secret unit used for assassinations and sabotage, headed the campaign to liquidate FLN chiefs.

Aussaresses admits he and his team of `specialists' conducted one of the war's most notorious crimes: the 1955 mass slaughter of Algerian suspects in revenge for attacks on French settlers.

`Action service' ran a secret torture center at the Villa les Tourelles in Algiers where Aussaresses personally supervised interrogations. Thousands of Algerians were subjected to `la g­gÉne,' intense electric current delivered to genitals, ears, and lips, savage beatings, near-drowning in filthy water, and mock executions. Few suspects ever emerged alive.

The struggle for Algeria climaxed in the epic, 1957 Battle of Algiers. Paris ordered General Jacques Massu's elite 10th Paratroop Division to `rake over' the FLN's strongholds in the Kasbah. Using hooded informers, torture, and assassinations, Aussaresses's men and Massu's tough `paras' destroyed the FLN Algiers network.

Aussaresses captured the leader of the FLN, Larbi Ben M'Hidi, and murdered him. He also killed another senior FLN chief, Ali Boumandjel. Both deaths were recorded as `suicides.' Aussaresses, who boasts of killing 24 prisoners with his own hand, recently admitted `we were a death squad.'

Another senior French para officer boasted, `we make the Gestapo and SS look like children. .'

Between 500,000 and 1 million Algerians were killed in the eight year uprising.. Thousands were tortured, including anti-war Frenchmen. Mass graves of executed prisoners are still being discovered in Algeria. Yet, not one senior French official ever was charged with these crimes.

The biggest uproar in France was not caused by Aussaresses' admission of atrocities, but his charges that these crimes were approved by the socialist government of Guy Mollet, its Justice Minister, Francois Mitterand, and by judges, politicians, policemen and bureaucrats - France's ruling establishment. These accusations come just as Lionel Jospin's ruling socialists face elections

Jospin's government, a self-professed champion of human rights, rejects any responsibility for French crimes in Algeria, and refuses to pay compensation to victims. Yet France sentenced Lyons Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie to life for torture and executions of Resistance fighters- the same crimes committed by Aussaresses. France recently jailed a senior Vichy official for deportation of Jews, condemned Turkey over the 1915 Armenian massacres and called for the trial of Chile's Gen. Pinochet.

Only the communist party is demanding a full judicial investigation. Meanwhile, Aussaresses continues to proudly boast of his exploits. He defends assassinations, mass executions, and torture as necessary to combat `terrorism.,' The general calls himself a patriot and says he would do it all again.

Similar arguments are heard today from Israel -and, ironically, from Algeria's own repressive, French-backed military regime which is trying to crush Islamic rebels with the same ruthless ferocity shown by the colonial French.

Aussaresses is a self-confessed war criminal who should be brought to trial. His book has served a valuable purpose in revealing France's hypocrisy and forcing it to face its brutal colonial past. If Germany must pay for its past crimes, why not France?

[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and author of the just released War at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000]

[The crackdown lasted several days and according to the Algerian state left 45,000 people dead. European historians put the figure at between 15,000 and 20,000.--"France urged to admit 1945 massacre," Al Jazeera, May 8, 2005]

Copyright © 2001 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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