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