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Former French General on Trial in Paris - 2001-11-26


A former French general has gone on trial in Paris on charges related to the torture and killing of Algerians during its independence struggle in the late 1950s. Paul Aussaresses has admitted personal involvement in the deaths of 24 Algerians. It is the former general's lack of repentance for his actions that has put him in court.

The conflict between the French and Algerians is not something the French like to discuss publicly. The eight year war that ended in 1962 granted independence to the Algerians, which French colonists considered a sell-out.

The war included the widespread use of torture by the French counter-intelligence services - a subject that was never publicly discussed until General Paul Aussaresses wrote a book about his service in Algeria in 1957. In it he frankly and unrepentantly described using torture to obtain information, as well as the summary execution of rebel leaders.

He said torture was an unfortunate necessity that had been approved at the highest levels of the French government.

There was public outrage when the book was published in May. There were calls for General Aussaresses, 83, to be tried for war crimes, but since 1968, France has had a blanket amnesty for the Algerian war.

The retired general and his book's editors are being tried under a law against attempting to justify war crimes. If convicted, they face five years in jail and a possible fine.

General Aussaresses told the court that he did not carry out reprisals - but rather prevented actions which would have killed French and Algerian citizens.

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