Sunday, May 30, 2004

Abu Ghraib, Aussaresses... Enough!

Paris Mayor Betrand Delanoë and historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet have christened a place in Paris in memory of Maurice Audin. The place is at the intersection of rue des Ecoles, rue Saint Victor and rue Monge in the 5th arrondissement.

Audin was a young communist militant and mathematician murdered at age 25 in Algeria as punishment for his anti-colonial activities. (View his doctoral thesis here — it was defended and published posthumously) The awful truth at long last grudgingly admitted is that Audin was killed by the French army, specifically by forces under the command of the now notorious general Aussaresses. (See here for Human Rights Watch's letter to president Chirac on the matter of Aussaresses and torture in Algeria.)

Apart from his heroism, his legacy remains as an indictment of France's past, such that in its most serious endeavors the country was opposed by its best and bravest citizens, for whom it reserved an ignominious end. Vidal-Naquet, the son of Holocaust survivors, is a pro-Palestinian historian who has also long waged a campaign against negationists, (against Robert Faurisson and Roger Garaudy in particular, but also against Chomsky, who prefaced an edition of a negationist book by Faurisson). Vidal-Naquet led the Audin Committee from 1957 to 1959. The committee attempted to establish the truth of the Audin case and he was also among the first to denounce the French army's use of torture.

Communist representatives on the Paris city council were the first to take the initiative in naming the place for Audin. In July 2001, they brought a resolution to a vote which stated: "The revelations of general Aussaresses about the torture practiced by the French army during the Algerian war have brought to life a part of our country's history that is far from recognized. Maurice Audin, a young intellectual, was most likely killed by Aussaresses' men."

During the ceremonies, Vidal-Naquet recalled the facts as they are currently known. In Algiers on June 11, 1957, the young mathematician was arrested at the home he shared with his wife Josette and his three children. Henri Alleg, then editor of the newspaper Alger républicain, and who would later write the book La Question, the decisive work on torture in Algeria, published in 1958 (four years before the end of the war), was arrested in the same place the next day. Alleg was present at the ceremony and heard Vidal-Naquet call him "one of the last witnesses, apart from his murders, to see Audin alive." Vidal-Naquet added, "to this day, the Republic has not solemnly recognized the murder of Maurice Audin. The one accused of the murder continued his career in the army and died having been awarded the legion of honor. I repeat, of honor."

The mayor, who made Mumia abu Jamal an honorary citizen of Paris last October, couldn't resist linking the case of French torture in Algeria to American torture in Iraq: "How many decades will it take to recognize that some French were collaborators and handed Jews over to the Nazis? Is torture an outdated struggle in 2004? In Iraq or elsewhere?"

It seems some in France are incapable of commenting on revelations of torture in Iraq without reference to Algeria. Really, the two are not comparable. There should be no comparison drawn. At all. Yet here is a review of a book on photographs of torture in Algeria. The title of the review, which is accompanied by a photo of Abu Ghraib, reads "Iraq, seen through the lens of the torture employed during the war of Algeria." The reviewer concludes that returning to such difficult matters is "to protect us from a vicious cycle that constantly threatens to crush our humanity, be it in Indochina, in Iraq, in Algeria or elsewhere."

Fortunately freelance journalist Hicham Ettayebi Ouzzani added a small measure of respectability to the discussion when he published an essay in Le Monde on May 24th entitled "Arab Jails."
[Arabs] know that torture defines them as citizens of their countries as much as laughter defines the human being, according to Aristotle. It is a common practice and many Arab states, doubtless in the name of a cultural exception, are eager to preserve it. In all honesty, few powers in the Arab world would have held up if they had not savagely inscribed their brazen laws in the flesh their opponents. [...]
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