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|Subject: Jacques Massu, 94, General Who Led Battle of Algiers|
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Date Posted: October 31, 2002 6:01:15 EDT
General Jacques Massu, a soldier who late in life came to deplore and regret France's use of torture during his triumphant direction of the Battle of Algiers in 1957, died on Saturday at his home in Conflans-sur-Loing in the Loiret region of France. He was 94.
A highly decorated officer who fought for France in every major conflict since World War I, Jacques Émile Charles Marie Massu joined General de Gaulle's Free French forces in 1940 after scribbling, "Nous vaincrons" (We shall win) in his diary.
After liberation, he spent years commanding troops fighting nationalist forces in Vietnam. In 1956, he spearheaded a drive to take control of the Suez Canal when the British-French thrust to recapture it from Egypt was thwarted by a United Nations cease-fire. In 1968, he was President de Gaulle's chief military aide in quelling the leftist uprising of young people in Paris.
But General Massu's greatest fame and notoriety rested on his role in Algeria. A lanky old soldier, almost as tall as his hero de Gaulle, he was named military commander of an inflamed Algeria in 1957. When his harsh measures resulted in triumph over the guerrillas of the National Liberation Front, he was lionized by Algeria's one million French settlers and worshiped by soldiers and veterans' groups calling him "Le père de paras," the father of paratroopers.
But for much of the ensuing 40 years, he was confronted, even haunted, by the tactics of torture systematically used in Algeria.
The most recent such challenge came after May 2001, when a dozen French intellectuals called upon the government to start an official inquiry on torture during the Algerian war, which ended in 1962 in negotiations between France and the National Liberation Front.
The appeal followed publication in French newspapers of the account of Louisette Ighilahriz, a 60-year-old woman, who described the months of physical assaults she endured 40 years earlier, when General Massu was in command and when she was working for the liberation front.
Asked to respond, General Massu condemned the use of torture while claiming that he had never learned where the policy originated.
"Torture is not indispensable in time of war, we could have gotten along without it very well," he said.
He acknowledged that torture had been "institutionalized" in Algeria. "That was the worst thing," he said. But he insisted that he personally had not been involved in imposing torture.
"Who was it that set them up?" he asked. "Was there military or civilian control? Was it the staff of the army in Paris? Today I still ask myself these questions."
When interviewers from the newspaper Le Monde wanted to know whether he thought that France should officially acknowledge the policies of torture used in Algeria and condemn them, he replied: "I think that would be a good thing. Morally torture is something very ugly."
General Massu's comments were widely reported in France and contrasted with those of his deputy in Algiers, Gen. Paul Aussaresses, who acknowledged without doubts or remorse that 3,000 Algerians had "been made to disappear" in the battle of Algiers. He said that he had personally taken part in the execution of 25 men, that suicides were faked and that "everybody" knew that such things had been authorized in Paris. He also said his only real regret was that some of those tortured died before they revealed anything useful.
General Aussaresses also said the details of torture had been known to General Massu.
"To keep a proper record, we wrote everything down," he said. "Sometimes I'd say to Massu, `We picked up so-and-so.' Then I'd look him straight in the eye and add, `We'll kill him tomorrow.' Massu grunted. I assumed he approved."
In fact, many years before his change of heart, General Massu had sounded much more like General Aussaresses, contending that torture had been "a cruel necessity."
In 1971 he wrote a book challenging the condemnatory tone of the classic Italian film "The Battle of Algiers." In it he said: "I am not afraid of the word torture, but I think in the majority of cases, the French military men obliged to use it to vanquish terrorism were, fortunately, choir boys compared with the use to which it was put by the rebels. The latter's extreme savagery led us to some ferocity, it is certain, but we remained within the law of eye for eye, tooth for tooth."
A child of a military family and a graduate of St. Cyr, the military academy, General Massu married Suzanne Rosenberg, who had been an ambulance driver for the Free French forces.
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