The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Saturday, May 08, 2004
Torture, public opinion and the Aussaresses case
I mentioned on May 5 that, in November, we will be entering an eight year period of fiftieth anniversaries of the Algerian War.
With torture filling headlines all over just now, the strange case of General Paul Aussaresses springs to mind. The guy previously figured here, first, on November 8 2002, in connection with the then recent death of General Jacques Massu, victor (kinda) of the Battle of Algiers; and then, on March 12 2003, kibitzing on what looks like a blogospherical indignation meeting of the air on torture and terrorism.
The Algerian War was one in which the French made great use of torture . Weak governments in Paris - François Mitterrand a notable member of a couple of them as, from memory, Justice and Interior Minister - turned a Nelson's eye: policy in Algeria was under the effective control of the pieds noirs - Mediterranean rag, tag and bobtail whose merit lay in their not being Arab or Berber .
Aussaresses served under Massu in Algiers in 1957, supervising the interrogation of suspects: generally, electricity and water were used, and the suspect killed afterwards.
The use of torture in Algeria was widely known in France by the end of the war in 1962, despite heavy government censorship. But the subject was more or less taboo.
The General's crime was to speak of it with approval in his autobiography . Literally, a crime: apologie de crimes de guerre. He was tried, convicted and fined, essentially for failing to stay quiet, or grovel, about the use of torture in Algeria .
Unlike the Indo-China War, a large number of young French conscripts, Jacques Chirac amongst them , found themselves in Algeria at one time or another (though only a small proportion would have taken part in torture sessions). The social pressure for oblivion was, and is, considerable.
(I now recall that Algeria was first put in my mind by a BBC radio docco - streamed here until sometime next Wednesday. The programme, just about worth half an hour's bandwidth, features Aussaresses and also Pierre Vidal-Naquet, of whose 1963 Penguin Special  Torture: Cancer of Democracy I have a rather battered copy. It's Algeria War Torture 101.)
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