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
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
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
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