Algeria torture: French general Paul Aussaresses dies

  • 4 December 2013
  • From the section Europe
Gen Aussaresses
Image caption Gen Aussaresses defended the use of torture in Algeria, saying it was a legitimate way of extracting information

A retired general who defended the use of torture by French forces during Algeria's war of independence has died.

Paul Aussaresses, 95, was the first senior French officer who admitted torturing and killing Algerian prisoners-of-war, in a book he published in 2001 about the conflict.

In 2002 a French court convicted him of defending the use of torture.

He was stripped of his Legion of Honour, one of France's top merit awards, after the book appeared.

Aussaresses never regretted the use of torture. He said "it became legitimate when the situation demanded it".

He also maintained that the government of the day was not only aware of the atrocities, but also approved them.

A member of the National Liberation Front (FLN) who fought in the war, Louisette Ighilahriz, said Aussaresses should have expressed remorse.

"He was honest. He admitted torturing Algerians... But he didn't go all the way. He should have expressed regret," she told the AFP news agency.

Man of war

Born in November 1918 at Saint Paul Cap de Joux in the south of France, Aussaresses enlisted in the French secret services and went on to found the counter-espionage unit.

In 1957 he was approached to establish order in Algeria. He himself described the unit he was heading as a "death squad" that was charged with carrying out night raids, torture and the removal of certain detainees.

After the Algerian war he went to lecture the US special forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the "techniques of the Battle of Algiers" including the use of torture. Analysts say many of those techniques were used during the Vietnam War.

In 1973, he was sent to Brazil during the military dictatorship as French military attache.

In a statement to the French broadcaster, France 24, the French rights group, Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) said that "during his career Aussaresses not only practiced torture, but also taught the techniques of torture in clandestine programmes with Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s".

No regrets

The Algerian war of independence of 1954-1962 was a brutal conflict in which both sides are known to have committed atrocities.

But the use of torture came as a shocking revelation to the French.

President Jacques Chirac, who also served in Algeria, was said to have been horrified by Aussaresses's actions.

He called for disciplinary action against the retired general and stripped him of his medal and his military rank.

Under the terms of a post-war amnesty, Aussaresses could not be tried for war crimes, and human rights groups campaigned for prosecution on a charge of being an apologist for war crimes.

Asked if he ever regretted his actions, he said he did not suffer sleepless nights.

"Am I a criminal? An assassin? A monster? No. I'm but a soldier who did his job and who did it for France because the country demanded it," he said.

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