The Torture of Algiers

Algérienne

by Louisette Ighilahriz, as told to Anne Nivat
Paris: Fayard/Calmann-Lévy, 274 pp., 18.25s (paper)

Une Vie Debout: Mémoires Politiques, Tome 1: 1945–1962

by Mohammed Harbi
Paris: La Découverte, 420 pp., 22.00s (paper)

Les Harkis: Une Mémoire Enfouie

by Jean-Jacques Jordi and Mohand Hamoumou
Paris: Autrement, 137 pp., 19.00s (paper)

Une Drôle de Justice: Les Magistrats dans la Guerre d’Algérie

by Sylvie Thénault
Paris: La Découverte, 347 pp., 23.00s (paper)

Uncivil War: Intellectuals and Identity Politics During the Decolonization of Algeria

by James D. Le Sueur, with aforeword by Pierre Bourdieu
University of Pennsylvania Press, 352 pp., $46.50

La Gangrène et l’Oubli:La Mémoire de la Guerre d’Algérie

by Benjamin Stora
Paris: La Découverte, 377 pp., 12.00s (paper)

La Torture et l’Armée pendant la Guerre d’Algérie, 1954–1962

by Raphaëlle Branche
Paris: Gallimard, 474 pp., 26.68s (paper)

Aux Origines de la Guerre d’Algérie, 1940–1945

by Annie Rey-Goldzeiguer
Paris: La Découverte, 403 pp., 25.00s (paper)

1.

In the fall of 1957, Louisette Ighilahriz, a twenty-year-old soldier in the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), the Algerian nationalist underground seeking to end French rule, was captured by French paratroopers on the outskirts of Algiers. Badly wounded in battle, she was transferred to a prison in the capital, where she spent the next three months under interrogation. According to Ighilahriz, now a psychologist and a grandmother of three, she was stripped naked, raped, and tortured repeatedly, before being rescued by a French military doctor who found her huddled in a pool of excrement and menstrual blood.

In the summer of 2000, Ighilahriz spoke of her torture for the first time in an interview with Florence Beaugé, Le Monde‘s correspondent in Algiers.

Ighilahriz’s testimony was especially powerful because of who she is. A student of the work of Victor Hugo and a fluent speaker of French, she has far more in common with her French contemporaries than with the bearded fundamentalists who waged jihad in her country throughout the 1990s, often singling out secular, professional women for assassination. What made her interview particularly poignant was that she seemed to be moved less by rage at her jailers than by gratitude to the doctor who saved her. She told Beaugé she broke her silence in the hope of finding Dr. Francis Richaud. (He had died in 1997.) At the same time, Ighilahriz did not hesitate to name the officers in attendance during her ordeal, most notably Jacques Massu, the head of the 10th division of paratroopers and a trusted ally of De Gaulle. Her charges provoked an uproar.

A distinguished ninety-four-year-old retired general, Massu has long acknowledged the use of torture by the French army, and his reply to Ighilahriz was remarkably temperate. Although he said he did not recall witnessing her torture, he said her testimony was otherwise credible, and that he knew the doctor to whom she paid such moving tribute. “Torture,” he told Le Monde, “isn’t indispensable in times of war, and one can very well do without it. When I look back on Algeria, it saddens me…. One could have done things differently.” Massu’s peers were furious. General Marcel Bigeard, who was also accused of torture by Ighilahriz, and who is said to have thrown Algerian prisoners from helicopters during the war, called her remarks a “tissue of lies.” But the most explosive reply of all came from Paul Aussaresses, an obscure, eighty-four-year-old general, in an interview with Le Monde in the fall of 2000.

Aussaresses is a veteran of De Gaulle’s Free French Forces. An undercover agent during the Second World War, he served the Resistance with great valor, parachuting into …

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