Monday, November 5, 2007

French Journalist Henri Alleg Describes His Torture Being Waterboarded by French Forces During Algerian War

Democracy Now!
With Amy Goodman

".....We now turn to a real-life survivor of the Algerian war of independence. Henri Alleg is a French journalist who was arrested by French paratroopers in Algeria in 1957. Alleg was sympathetic to Algerian independence. He was interrogated for a month, questioned under torture, and repeatedly subjected to waterboarding.

Alleg described his ordeal in an essay titled “The Question,” which was published in 1958 with a preface by Jean-Paul Sartre. The book was subsequently banned in France and legalized only after the war ended in 1962. Henri Alleg, 86-year-old survivor of torture by French paratroopers, joins me now on the phone from Paris, France......

But first, we’re going to go to a clip of the film The Battle of Algiers. It was released in 1966 by the Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo. The film vividly depicts the Algerian struggle for independence against the French occupation in the ’50s and ’60s. French paratroopers sent to root out the Algerian National Liberation Front are shown employing torture, intimidation and murder to defeat the resistance. This is an excerpt of that film, The Battle of Algiers, with the colonel from the French paratroopers holding a news conference with reporters......

COLONEL MATHIEU: Let us be exact. The word “torture” does not appear in our orders. We ask questions as in any police operation against an unknown gang. The FLN asks its members to keep silent for twenty-four hours if they are captured. Then they can talk. That's the time required to render any information useless. How should we question suspects? Like the courts and take a few months over it? The legal way has its drawbacks. Is it legal to blow up public places? When he asked Ben M’Hidi, what did he say?

Believe me, it's a vicious circle. We could talk for hours without reaching a conclusion. The problem is quite different. The FLN wants to kick us out of Algeria. And we want to stay. Even though we have different ideas, I think we all want to stay. When the rebellion started, there were no nuances. All the papers, even those of the left, wanted it suffocated. We're here for that. We are neither mad nor sadists. They call us fascists. They forget what we did in the Resistance. They say Nazis, but some of us survived Buchenwald. We are soldiers. Our duty is to win; thus, to be quite clear, I'll ask you a question myself: Must France stay in Algeria? If the answer is still “yes,” you must accept all that this entails......

HENRI ALLEG: Well, I have described the waterboarding I was submitted to. And no one can say, having passed through it, that this was not torture, especially when he has endured other types of torture -- burning, electricity and beating, and so on. So I am really astonished that this is a big question in the States about this, because the real question is not waterboarding or not waterboarding, it’s the use of torture in such a war, and this use of torture, torture in general.

A man liked General Massu, who was the chief organizer of torture in Algeria and who died about two years ago, asked about three months before his death what he thought of torture and the use of -- the general use of torture in Algeria, said that he regretted it and that the war could have been -- could have gone on without torture. In fact, torture is not the main thing in such a war. The war was against the Algerian people, and every kind of torture used against an Algerian man or woman would only help the Algerians to fight back, and that when a son knew that his father was tortured, he had only one idea, that is, join the fighters who had tortured his father. So, I don’t think this is the good question......"

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