The confession by a French general, now in his 80s, that he personally executed 24 insurgents during the Algerian independence struggle has fed growing demands from the left for an official apology for illegal acts of war committed by the French army.
General Paul Aussaresses, 83, was military intelligence chief during the battle of Algiers in 1957, when anti-colonial rebels launched a campaign of violence on the streets of the Algerian capital. He told Le Monde newspaper Thursday that detainees were shot as a matter of course.
"Sometimes I captured senior figures from the FLN (the underground resistance) and I said to myself, 'This one is dangerous. We have to kill him.' And I did it, or I had someone else do it, which amounts to the same thing," he said.
"If I myself went on to carry out these summary executions, it was because I wanted to assume personal responsibility. I didn't want to make someone else do the dirty work." he said.
Asked how many Algerian prisoners he had killed, Aussaresses at first said he could not be sure, but pressed he went on, "Yes, it's true, I do remember. It was 24."
The interview with Aussaresses came as the political left stepped up its campaign for an official recognition of French excesses during the eight-year war similar to the apology given by President Jacques Chirac for the Vichy government's treatment of Jews in World War II.
Earlier this month Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin responded positively to the proposal, saying that "efforts to uncover the truth ... strengthen our national community by allowing us to learn the lessons of the past."
And on Wednesday the communist party's group in the National Assembly called for an official committee of enquiry into the use of torture during the 1954-1962 war. "It is our duty to remember. It is essential for forming the conscience of today's citizens," they said in their submission.
The deputies received the support Thursday of the senior surviving figure from the war, General Jacques Massu, 92, who as military commander in Algiers in 1957 ordered the tough crackdown against the guerrilla fighters that eventually brought the campaign of bombings in the capital to a halt.
Massu, who has admitted that the use of torture was systematic at the time, told Le Monde that if France recognised this officially, "that would be a good thing. Torture is ugly. It would be progress."
Aussaresses, who reported to Massu during the battle of Algiers, said Massu knew of the executions. "Sometimes I would say to Massu, 'We've picked up so-and-so.' Then I would look him in the eyes and say, 'We'll kill him tomorrow.'
"Massu would let out a groan, and I took that for a yes."
The army took over law and order in Algiers from the police in January 1957 in response to the worsening violence. Aussaresses described how he made the French police chief Paul Teitgen sign house arrest-orders which helped him dispose of Algerian suspects.
"(The orders) meant we could shut the detainees up in camps .... In fact we then executed them, but Teitgen didn't find out till later," he said. Of 24,000 people issued with house-arrest orders, more than 3,000 were killed, he said.
A third war-veteran, General Marcel Bigeard, condemned the tendency toward confession and apology. "When bombs are going off and children are being killed or maimed, how can you not react? You can't make judgements from the comfort of an arm-chair," he told le Figaro newspaper – PARIS (AFP)
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