[Marxism] French Soldiers Tortured Algerians, Macron Admits 6 Decades Later

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Sep 14 07:02:56 MDT 2018

NY Times, Sept. 14, 2018
French Soldiers Tortured Algerians, Macron Admits 6 Decades Later
By Adam Nossiter

PARIS — One of the ugliest unsolved crimes of France’s long-ago, 
quasi-colonial war in Algeria was finally laid to rest on Thursday, as 
President Emmanuel Macron recognized that the French Army had tortured 
and killed a youthful antiwar intellectual in 1957.

The death in custody of Maurice Audin, a 25-year-old mathematician, has 
for decades been a symbol of the French Army’s brutality during the 
Algerian War, much as the My Lai massacre became for the United States’ 
war in Vietnam. But unlike My Lai, which led to prosecutions, the Audin 
affair was never investigated.

There have been books, films and furtive late-life declarations by aging 
officers, but the mystery has never been solved. And until now, France 
had never admitted that it used torture in Algeria.

For 61 years, Mr. Audin’s widow, Josette has battled the French state to 
have her husband’s killing recognized as the murderous work of military 
torturers during a critical phase of the Algerian War.

On Thursday, Mr. Macron took responsibility for it, officially 
acknowledging for the first time the widespread use of torture by French 
forces in Algeria.

“It’s really a big, historic turning point for the history of France,” 
said Benjamin Stora, a leading historian of France’s relationship with 
Algeria. “It’s much bigger than the case of Maurice Audin. Macron spoke 
of a system that allowed torture, violence, crimes — a direct 
responsibility of the state. The case of Audin was emblematic, but this 
touches the whole history of colonization.”

Official France has had a complicated relationship with its recent past. 
It took decades for the French state to acknowledge its responsibility 
for collaborating with the Nazis in the genocide of the Jews during 
World War II, long after historians had made it irrefutably clear.

The Algerian War remains highly sensitive, as many veterans are still 
alive, as are millions of former French residents of Algeria and their 
children, the so-called “pieds noirs.” French politicians have trod 

As president, Nicolas Sarkozy never answered a 2007 letter from Ms. 
Audin demanding that the mystery of her husband’s death finally be 
unveiled. Mr. Macron himself created a ruckus during the 2017 
presidential campaign when he said, in a visit to Algiers, that French 
colonialism had been a “crime against humanity.”

Several historians compared Mr. Macron’s new declaration on torture in 
Algeria — he said the mathematician’s death was the result of a “legally 
established system” — to the 1995 speech by then-President Jacques 
Chirac taking French responsibility for a major roundup of Jews in 1942, 
the “Vel d’Hiv” roundup.

“The comparison is valid,” said the historian Raphaëlle Branche, who has 
written about the French Army’s use of torture during the Algerian War. 
“They both took as their jumping-off point a particular case to then 
speak of a global responsibility.”

Mr. Macron’s words were “extremely strong,” she said. “An official 
declaration recognizing that crimes were committed in Algeria is very 

The French president said he “recognized, in the name of the French 
Republic, that Maurice Audin was tortured and then executed, or tortured 
to death, by soldiers who arrested him at his home.” On Thursday he went 
to the home of Ms. Audin, now 87, in the Paris suburb of Bagnolet, 
hugged her and asked for forgiveness.

Mr. Audin was a reputedly brilliant professor at the Sciences University 
of Algiers, a communist who went to antiwar rallies but was not 
implicated in any violent acts of resistance. Late on the night of June 
11, 1957, when the city was in the throes of what became known as the 
Battle of Algiers, a struggle between French soldiers and Algerian 
independence fighters, French paratroopers burst into the Audin family’s 

As Ms. Audin watched, the soldiers marched her husband down the stairs. 
He shouted, “Look after the children,” in reference to the couple’s 
three young children. She never saw him again.

Officially, the French Army insisted that Mr. Audin had run away while 
being transferred. But his body never turned up, and within a month his 
wife pursued a court case alleging murder. In 1958, the French classical 
historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet published a bombshell book with witness 
accounts of the young mathematician being tortured at the notorious 
El-Biar prison in Algiers. But amnesty laws and court judgments stifled 
any change in the story.

“You never stopped trying to have the truth recognized,” Mr. Macron told 
Ms. Audin on Thursday — not even when, in 1966, France’s top appeals 
court officially closed the books on the case. Early in 2014, French 
television broadcast a statement from Paul Aussaresses, the dying 
general who had been in charge of intelligence operations during the 
battle of Algiers, saying that he had ordered the killing of Mr. Audin.

Mr. Stora said Mr. Macron’s declaration was important for France’s 
former colonial possessions in Africa, where indignation over its 
imperial behavior remains at a low boil.

“It’s a gesture that touches foreign policy, the northern and southern 
banks” of the Mediterranean, the historian said. “There’s a lot of fear, 
endless crisis on both sides. So this is an act of foreign policy as well.”

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