Sunday 21 January 2018

French intelligence officer who went from national hero to villain

Obituary - General Paul Aussaresses

Disgraced: General Paul Aussaresses
Disgraced: General Paul Aussaresses

General Paul Aussaresses was an intelligence chief whose revelations of torture and murder in Algeria shocked his country.

Aussaresses, who has died aged 95, scandalised France and disgraced himself when, in 2000, he revealed that he had participated in summary executions and acts of torture during the Algerian War of Independence.

The revelations, made when Aussaresses was 82, could hardly be called confessions, because they were not accompanied by any sign of remorse. On the contrary, Aussaresses noted that if confronted by the same situation again "it would piss me off, but I would do the same".

For France, however, the news was deeply shocking, throwing into sharp relief long-buried concerns about its forces' behaviour in its former colony, as well its treatment of Algerian allies afterwards. Aussaresses assured his countrymen that the future President François Mitterrand, then justice minister, had been kept scrupulously informed of every detail of what was happening in Algiers. "He knew," Aussaresses noted. "Everyone knew."

Jacques Chirac, president at the time of the publication of Aussaresses's book, Services Spéciaux: Algérie 1955-57 (2001), declared himself "horrified" by its tales of murder, beatings, electrocution and waterboarding, and called for the "full truth" to come out. But the truth was worse than most people imagined.

Aussaresses described hanging Larbi Ben M'Hidi, a leader of the Algerian militant FLN, then making it look like suicide.

At the time, when such men were written off as terrorists, it seemed Aussaresses – France's intelligence chief in Algeria – was hardly challenged. But 40 years later, his reflection that torture was an "effective" tool proved out of step with the mood of his country. He found little support, and was hauled before the French courts and stripped of his decorations. Even his family renounced him.

The truth, however, was that far from having collaborated during World War II, Aussaresses had fought behind enemy lines. Had he chosen not to open his mouth in his dotage, it is likely that many French politicians would have queued to pay homage at his funeral.

Paul Aussaresses was born on November 7, 1918, at Saint-Paul-de-Joux, south-west France. He was educated in Bordeaux, excelling in classics, and attended the St Cyr military academy at Aix-en-Provence, where it had relocated after the German invasion of 1940. By the end of his life he was more or less fluent in six languages.

After the war he moved into the French secret services, helping to create the shock unit of counter-intelligence, SDECE agency.

He arrived in Philippeville (now Skikda), Algeria, in autumn 1954, just as full-scale hostilities were about to break out. There he made no bones about his "enhanced" interrogation techniques, and quickly won a reputation for his ability to penetrate FLN cells. Such was his success that, in 1957, he was promoted to chief of intelligence by Gen Jacques Massu, leading what Aussaresses himself described as "the company of death".

After France withdrew from Algeria, Aussaresses took his counter-insurgency experience to Fort Bragg, where he trained with the US Green Berets and produced a report entitled The American Army against guerrillas forces.

He returned to France in 1966, the year after he was appointed a Commander of the Legion of Honour.

Aussaresses spent much of the early 1970s in Latin America, training up special forces for many of the less salubrious regimes of the era. Little more was heard of him until 2000.

Paul Aussaresses was twice married and had three daughters.

Irish Independent

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