War crimes apologist from Franco-Algerian war dies

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Associated Press

Posted on December 4, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 4 at 11:34 AM

PARIS (AP) — French Gen. Paul Aussaresses, whose remorseless admission of executions and torture during the Algerian independence war five decades ago forced France to examine the dark period, has died. He was 95.

Aussaresses, whose death was announced Wednesday on the website of a French veteran's association, was convicted and fined in January 2002 for "complicity in justifying war crimes" in connection with his memoir about the seven-year war that ended with Algeria's independence from French rule in 1962.

"I express regrets," Aussaresses said in a 2001 interview with The Associated Press. "But I cannot express remorse. That implies guilt. I consider I did my difficult duty of a soldier implicated in a difficult mission."

The general was intelligence chief and a top commander during the Battle of Algiers, the brutal 1957 campaign that saw the French army reclaim control of the center of the Algerian capital.

His admission of torture and summary killings "horrified" then-French President Jacques Chirac, according to a statement at the time. Chirac also served in the French Army during the French-Algerian war in 1954.

Aussaresses was instantly recognizable by his eye patch — though he lost sight in one eye due to a botched cataract operation, not combat.

When Aussaresses' book, "Special Services: Algeria 1955-57," was published in 2001 it caused an uproar in France and quickly became a best seller. He detailed methods of torture used against prisoners under his command — ranging from blows to electricity to suffocation with water — and implied that top leaders were aware of the practice.

He shocked Paris and Algiers, coldly calling the torture "efficient" and saying he was only carrying out orders and had a clear conscience. "Everybody knew, everybody knew," he said at the time.

The general's lapel carried the red Legion of Honor insignia, one of France's top honors, which Chirac had stripped.

"The full truth must come out about these unjustifiable acts," Chirac said in 2001.

Chirac's presidency after 2001 was marked by his attempt to atone for wrongs committed against the former colony, such as granting pension rights to Algerian war veterans who fought for France.

He asked that historians quickly access archives, which were made available for the first time in April 2001, to uncover the truth.

There had long been suspicions of atrocities during the bloody war that ended 132 years of French rule in Algeria, but the period had been shrouded in secrecy. Only in 1999 did France officially call the combat with Algeria a war. It was previously referred to as an "operation to maintain order."

Aussaresses wrote that Algerian war hero Larbi Ben M'Hidi was among those killed. France has for years contended he committed suicide.

Causing equal controversy, he wrote that then-French Justice Minister Francois Mitterrand was informed of the atrocities. Mitterrand, who had gone on to become president between 1981 and '95, had died in 1996, before Aussaresses had made the allegations.

The French leader of the time of the war, President Rene Coty, had died in 1962.

But Gilbert Collard, the lawyer who represented Aussaresses in 2002, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that no one implicated in the 2001 allegations who was still alive at the time denied the account.

"No one denied it. No one. And there was no investigation into torture here in France, or anywhere else," said Collard.

"All (Aussaresses) did was to carry out the orders that were given by his leaders. This was war. If there are two people in a room who know where a bomb is going off, and it's about to explode, what would you do to get the information?" he asked.

He said that the European Court of Human Rights in France condemned France in 2009 for convictions of the publishers of Aussaresses' memoirs, saying that it infringed freedom of expression.

Aussaresses was one of two top generals who first acknowledged in interviews in November 2000 in the newspaper Le Monde that torture was "generalized." The late Gen. Massu, the hero of the Battle of Algiers in 1957, also testified to the "institutionalized" nature of torture.

The Franco-Algerian war was a complex and grueling conflict marked by urban guerrilla warfare and the use of torture by both sides. It was bruising politically, bringing down the government in 1958 and prompting the writing of a new constitution.

Incoming President Charles de Gaulle heeded a popular referendum and granted independence to Algeria in 1962.

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at https://twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP

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