Chapter 3, The Cruel War (1957)

The "Battle of Algiers"

On December 27, 1956, Amedee Froger, president of the federation of mayors of Algeria and a virulent spokesman for the minor colons, was mur- dered in Algiers. The next day his funeral occasioned truly brutal ratonnades (Arab-bashings), which caused several Muslim casualties. Tension was ex- treme between the Europeans and the Muslim Algerians. Robert Lacoste's general government decided to react. On the basis of the "special powers" passed in March 1956, he entrusted the "pacification" of Algiers to General Jacques Massu, commander of the Tenth Paratroopers' Division.

On January 7, 1957, eight thousand paratroopers moved into the city, charged with a policing mission. The "battle of Algiers" had begun. On January 9 and 10, two explosions caused panic in two stadiums in Algiers. But the horror reached its peak on January 26. Within a few minutes of each other, two charges exploded, the first in the bar L'Otomatic, the second in the cafe Le Coq Hardi, in the very center of Algiers. Two Muslim Algerians were lynched by an agitated European mob. On January 28, to coincide with the United Nations debates, the FLN launched an order for an eight- day general strike. The army broke the strike. At every moment and at every location, helicopters landed on the terraces of the Casbah. The city was divided into sectors, and the Muslim neighborhoods were isolated behind barbed wire, under searchlights. General Massu, endowed with policing powers over the city, had the responsibility of restoring order, and broke apart the FLN's "autonomous zone of Algiers" (ZAA) which was located primarily in the Casbah and headed by Yacef Saadi. The FLN set up a true organization estimated at five thousand militants. Terrorism served to justify recourse to every means possible. Massu's men made massive arrests, systematically took down names, and, in the "transit and sorting centers" lo- cated on the periphery of the city, practiced torture. The leader of the FLN, Larbi Ben M'Hidi, was arrested on February 17, and subsequently was said to have "committed suicide." The "very exhaustive" interrogations produced results.

It was truly "blood and shit," as Colonel Marcel Bigeard said, a horrendous battle, during which bombs blew dozens of European victims to pieces, while paratroopers dismantled the networks by uncovering their hierarchy, discovered caches, and flushed out the FLN leaders installed in the city. Their means? Electrodes (known as gigene, a slang term for generator), dunkings in bathtubs, beatings. Some of the torturers were sadists, to be sure. But many officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers would live with that nightmare for the rest of their lives. The number of attacks perpetrated fell from 112 in January to 39 in February, then to 29 in March. The FLN's command center, run by Abbane Ramdane, was forced to leave the capital. Massu had a first victory.
On March 28, 1957, General Paris de Bollardiere asked to be relieved of his duties. He could not allow the use of torture, which he had experienced and fought against during the German Occupation. The chaplain of the Tenth Paratroopers' Division responded by declaring: "One cannot fight against revolutionary war except with methods of clandestine action." General Paris de Bollardiere was sentenced to sixty days in prison on April 15, 1957.

In early June the attacks resumed. On June 3, a bomb went off near a bus stop; onJune 9, the dance hall of a casino was targeted, causing 8 deaths and 92 injuries. The repression began again, aided this time by a network of "reformed" militants (called the "overalls"), who, under the leadership of Captain Uger, infiltrated the FLN and brought down many leaders. Yacef Saadi was arrested on September 24, 1957. His assistant, Ali La Pointe, finding himself surrounded, committed suicide in a cache to avoid arrest. The "battle of Algiers" was over. The European population rediscovered the pleasures of the beach and the restaurants, and worshiped its paratroopers. That idyll would continue on May 13, 1958.

The FLN networks had been destroyed, thousands of Algerians had been arrested or "disappeared." But that military victory was accompanied by a grave moral crisis. On September 12, 1957, Paul Teitgen, secretary general of the Algiers police, resigned in protest against the practices of General Massu and the paratroopers. He put forward the figure of 3,024 disappeared. The "question" of torture was about to divide France.

The Question of Torture

Torture, employed as an ordinary procedure of "pacification" during the "battle of Algiers," was certainly the great scandal of these Algerian years (Vidal-Naquet 1975).

As early as January 15, 1955, the writer Francois Mauriac had published an article in L 'Express entitled "The Question." At the same time, the journalist Claude Bourdet also denounced what he called "Your Algerian Gestapo" in France-Obseruateur. On March 2, 1955, Roger Willaume, an inspector general in the administration, remitted a report to Jacques Soustelle, governor-general of Algeria, which made it very clear that torture was commonly practiced on "suspects." On December 13, 1955, Premier Edgar Faure received a report prepared by Jean Mairey, director of Surete Nationale, that reached the same conclusion. Torture was being used by the ditachement opirationnnel de protection, or DOP (protective operation detail), special units of the army charged with "exhaustive" interrogations.

Beginning in mid-February 1957, the weekly Timoignage Chritien published the "Jean Muller dossier," by a recalled reservist in Algeria: "We are far removed from the pacification for which we were supposedly called; we are desperate to see how low human nature can stoop, and to see the French use procedures stemming from Nazi barbarism." In March 1957, a few recalled reservists put out a brochure, Des rappelis timoignent (Recalled reservists bear witness) under the aegis of the Comite de Resistance Spirituelle (Committee of Spiritual Resistance). In it, there are accounts such as this: "I was thinking of the kid, who I imagined terrorized at the bottom of the jeep trailer, where he had been shut up at night. Yet it was the kid they were torturing." In April, the journal Esprit published the wrenching ac- count by Robert Bonnaud, "The Peace of the Nementchas": "If France's honor can go along with these acts of torture, then France is a country without honor."

In September 1957, Paul Teitgen resigned his post as secretary general of the police in Algiers. He wrote: "In visiting the settlement centers, I recognized on certain detainees the deep marks of abuse or torture that I person- ally endured fourteen years ago in the basement of the Gestapo in Nancy." In November 1957, at the initiative of the mathematician Laurent Schwartz and the historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, the Comite Maurice-Audin was formed, named after a young mathematician who disappeared after being abducted by paratroopers and tortured. In January 1958, Henri Alleg's La question appeared, which troubled consciences and publicly revealed the torture. So began the "affair" that deeply divided public opinion, the Church, families, and the parties: Why did the French army practice large-scale torture? Many thought that torture could become an institution, first of the police, and then of the military.

The publication in newspapers and journals (L'Humaniti, Les Temps Modernes, Esprit, Viriti Pour) of works such as the Catholic writer Pierre- Henri Simon's Contre la torture (Against torture) got intellectuals involved; they soon formed into networks that fought against disinformation and human rights violations. Communist militants, writers, the Catholic intellectuals Francois Mauriac, Andre Mandouze, Pierre-Henri Simon, and Andre Frossard, and priests proved particularly active in the circulation of the war "secrets." Some belonged to the Mission de France, set up in Pontigny, Yonne, in August 1954, under the supervision of cardinal Lienart.

Despite the censorship and the shroud of secrecy covering Algeria, the French public gradually discovered the true nature of a conflict that, to be sure, no longer had anything to do with a mere "peacekeeping mission."

Censorship, Prisons, Camps

The Algerian war brought about major restrictions on the freedom of the press, of publication, and of visual images. Censorship was set in place on a large scale. The law of Apri13, 1955, declaring "the state of emergency," allowed administrative authorities, the minister of the interior, the general government, and the prefects to "take all measures to ensure control of the press and of publications of all kinds, as well as radio transmissions, showings of films, and theatrical performances" (article II of the law of April 3, 1955, declared applicable by that law). The decree of March 17, 1956, within the framework of the "special powers," repeated a similar formula, extended to "every means of expression." Printed texts could be seized by the administration and the courts, or subject to police measures or additional penalties, as an attack on state security.

The many newspapers and books seized by the prefects came about by virtue of article 10 of the criminal investigation code, which became article 30 of the penal procedures code. That article allowed the prefect to temporarily seize books or periodicals that contained a press violation, as stipulated by the law of July 29, 1881, if it also constituted "an attack on state security." In its section on crimes and misdemeanors committed via the press, the law of July 28, 1881, restricted freedom of opinion by repressing incitement to crimes and misdemeanors against the body politic. Article 25 of that law, used many times during the Algerian War, "represses the incitement of military personnel to disobedience, even when it remains without effect." A decision of April 27, 1961, defined the grounds that could justify a ban: support of an act of subversion directed against the authorities or laws of the Republic, or the dissemination of secret information, military or administrative.

Under the Fourth Republic, certain newspapers, such as L'express, France-Observateu7; L'Humanite, Le Canard Enchame, La Verite des Travai//eurs, and Le Libertaire were particularly targeted. Nearly thirty works from the publishers Jerome Lindon and Francois Maspero would be seized under the Fifth Republic, between 1958 and 1962.

As of 1955, the police and the army championed house arrest for Algerian nationalist militants. Detention camps were established in Algeria by virtue of the law of March 16, 1956. Tens of thousands of Algerians were put into camps without due process, in Bossuet, Saint-Leu, and Lambessa.

The law of July 26, 1957, extended to France the provisions set out in the so-called special powers law. It stipulated the possibility of restricting to a detention center, in places located within the metropolis, any person convicted in application of the "laws on battle squads or private militias." Only one mode of application was envisioned for the detention thus set in place: internment in a guarded residence center. Between 1956 and 1959, then, four detention centers under guard were gradually established: Mounnelon-Vadenay (Marne), Saint-Maurice-l' Ardoise (Gard), Thol (Ain), and Larzac (Aveyron). The militants brought to these centers, after their sentences had been served, were those considered by the police to be "most active in the rebellion, whose return to freedom, that is, to separatist plots, poses a serious danger." The optimal use of these legislative provisions made it possible to obtain, within two years, the signing of 6,707 detention orders, of which 1,860 were executed.

The Fourth Republic was also a time of massive trials and death sentences. Ahmed Zabana, judged by the armed forces tribunal in Algiers, was the first to be sentenced to death; he was executed in the Barberousse Prison on June 19, 1956.

The Battles of the French Army

The bazooka attack committed on January 16, 1957, against Salan's office seems to have been separate from the "battle of Algiers": supposedly, the goal of the plot was to eliminate a general who was suspected of liberalism. In fact, Salan managed to straighten out the military situation. As it happened, in the bled, the combat methods of Colonel Jeanpierre's legionnaires, Bigeard's paratroopers, and others, paid off. The "rebels" bringing armaments from Tunisia and Morocco were intercepted and pursued into the interior of the sectors patrolled by conventional regiments. Helicopters and intelligence became the instruments of the troops, who were freed from policing Algiers in early summer 1957.

Despite a noticeable increase in its losses, the ALN was strengthened, than~ to the weapons and reinforcements that, in spite of everything, it received from Morocco and especially Tunisia, where it sent its recruits to be trained and armed. To isolate Algeria from these countries, Minister of Defense Andre Morice (a member of the Bourges-Maunoury government from June to September 1957) decided to build, behind the border lines, network of electrified and mined barbed wire (called the barrages or the "Morice Line"). In the desert zones, these were supplemented by batteries of cannons that would fire automatically when set off by radar. These obstacles could be breached, but as soon as they were, the break in the electrical current would send a signal to the military forces that someone had gone through.

In late May 1957, a very bitter skirmish occurred in wilaya IV between Bigeard's paratroopers and five hundred "fellaghas" (the name given the peasant insurrection movement in Tunisia) led by Azzedine, who escaped; ninety-six "rebels" were killed. At the same time, Salan undertook "social" pacification and dispatched SAS (special administrative section) officers to the bled: these men were paid to promote literacy and provide medical assistance, which also served as counterpropaganda and intelligence. In the rural areas, the relocation of the evacuated populations from the "forbid- den zones" and the SAS actions had a negative effect on the FLN-ALN's recruitment, supply operations, and intercommunications. The recruitment of harkis and other auxiliaries from the peasantry resistant to the authority of the insurgent leaders, and from former "rebels," facilitated the actions of the military forces (in 1962, a report sent to the UN estimated the number of Muslims who fought in the auxiliary units or in self-defense groups at 263,000).

In early 1958, the French command judged that the war was virtually won. Minister Resident Robert Lacoste kept repeating victory would come to the one who held out for "the last quarter hour." That entailed "forget- ting" the profound political and moral crisis permeating the Fourth Republic in 1957. In addition, the FLN leadership, installed outside the country, still hoped to win by combining an offensive of its troops from Tunisia and Morocco with diplomatic pressure on the UN, as a way to internationalize the conflict with an Algerian "Dien Bien Phu."

Crises in the Republic

In 1957, the conflict intensified throughout Algeria, outside the large cities. Soldiers of the contingent were now engaged in war, while in the metropolis more and more people were speaking out against torture. The UN demanded that France apply a "peaceful, democratic, and fair" solution to the Algerian problem. The American senator John F. Kennedy publicly declared himself in favor of this approach on July 2, 1957. In Paris, the Guy Mollet government, whose budget was reeling under the weight of heavy expenses incurred by the "peacekeeping operation" in Algeria, was over- thrown on May 28, 1957. The cabinet of Maurice Bourges-Maunoury succeeded it. It decided to focus on the Sahara, where oil had been discovered, and asked Robert Lacoste, who was kept in his post, to prepare an outline law that would bring a "new Algeria" into being. The international repercussions of the Algerian affair were obsessing the parties in the Front Republicain and, by September 1957, the gap had widened between the politicians and the military, between the metropolis and the pieds noirs, and within the left itself. A large proportion of "democrats" and "leftists" in the Federation de I'Education Nationale, or FEN (National Education Federation), the Force Ouvriere, or FO (Workers' Power), and the Ligue des Droits des Hommes (Human Rights League), spoke of "the indigenous populations" and of "the territories," not of peoples and nations. Individual oppression was recognized, not national oppression. The republican left (which had come into existence during the Dreyfus affair) with its passion for universalism and the principles of 1789, opposed nationalism (French or Algerian) and religious circles. Logically, it rejected the proclamations of the Algerian nationalists, which were "marked by Islamic religiosity." At the same time, it could not understand why the republican principle of equality had never really been applied to Algeria and the colonies.

The Algerian affair, in fact, legitimated a republican reading of the FLN as a "symbol of justice"; but a different reading saw the organization as the conveyor of an "archaic nationalism to be transcended." The PCF also proved incapable of deciding between these two readings. That failure led to the involvement of a significant faction of young people in a radical Third World movement against "National Molletism" and the PCF, considered obstinately faithful to Moscow. The largest aid network to the FLN was run by Francis Jeanson, a philosopher and managing editor of the journal Les Temps Modernes, who, with his wife, Colette, had published L'AIgirie hors-/a loi (Outlaw Algeria) in 1955. Jeanson had long hoped for a burst of energy on the part of the French left, which the "people" had brought to power in 1956 under the Front Republicain label; he was weary of meetings, placards, and the pious motions of a left that "continued to put the brakes to a movement that it prided itself on promoting." Observing that "none of the people who spoke of putting an end to the war, which they themselves declared absurd, conceded that one might help French young people refuse to become mired in it, " and that "they were denouncing colonialism, but considered criminal any sort of practical solidarity with the colonized," he came to the logical conclusion: provide direct aid to the FLN.

During this time, the Socialist Robert Lacoste was attempting to escape the political impasse. He prepared an outline law that included a "single college," which would get rid of the voting inequality in the two colleges (one European vote was worth seven Algerian votes, according to the statute drafted in 1947). On September 13, this proposal for an outline law was adopted in the Council of Ministers. But it was in turn shouted down by the majority of Europeans. It did not even manage to convince the National Assembly: on September 30, 1957, Bourges-Maunoury was overthrown. It was not until the following November 6 that the assembly awarded its confidence to the new government of the Radical Felix Gaillard. The outline law on Algeria, greatly watered down to reduce the influence of Muslim elected officials, was finally passed on November 29, and its application postponed until the end of the war. Funds were allocated to build the electrified barriers on the borders of Morocco and Tunisia, the "Morice Line" (named after the short-lived minister of defense). Robert Lacoste remained resident minister in Algeria, but his authority was gone. General Salan now exercised vast prerogatives, and intended to win the war with his spirited colonels.