• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Paul Aussaresses

French general.

Born: November 7, 1918 Died: December 3, 2013

Paul Aussaresses, who has died aged 95, was a French general whose admission of executions and torture during the Algerian independence war five decades ago shocked France. He was convicted and fined in 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," Gen Aussaresses said before his memoirs were published "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 centre of the Algerian capital.

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

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

When his book, Special Services: Algeria 1955-57, was published in 2001 it caused an uproar in France and quickly became a bestseller. He detailed methods of torture used against prisoners under his command - ranging from 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 Honour insignia, one of France's top honours, which Mr Chirac later stripped from him. Mr 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.

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

Causing equal controversy, he wrote that then French Justice Minister Francois Mitterrand was informed of the atrocities. Mr Mitterrand, who had gone on to become president between 1981 and 1995, had died in 1996, before Gen 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 Gen Aussaresses, said 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," he said.

"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.

Gen Aussaresses had arrived in Algeria after military service there during the Second World War. He was born in Saint-de-Joux in the south of France and educated at the Lycee Montaigne in Bordeaux and the St Cyr military academy in Aix-en-Provence. He served as an infantryman in Algeria in 1941 and then, after the war, moved into the French secret services. He was instrumental in creating the counter-intelligence agency SDECE and in 1946 was also a founding member of the 11th Shock Parachute Battalion. He arrived in Algeria for the second time in 1954 just as full-scale conflict was about to break out and was one of the first generals to acknowledge in interviews in November 2000 in the newspaper Le Monde that torture was, in his words, generalised.

The late General Massu, the hero of the Battle of Algiers in 1957, also testified to the institutionalised nature of torture.

The Franco-Algerian war was a complex and gruelling conflict marked by urban guerilla 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.

Later in the 1960s, Gen Aussaresses was appointed to the French delegation to Nato before becoming military attache in Brazil. By this point, the celebrated 1966 film The Battle for Algiers had begun to turn public opinion against France's role in the country. He retired from active service in 1973 and joined the arms trader Thomson.

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

199843