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Monday, 26 November, 2001, 13:53 GMT
French general on trial over Algeria
General Aussaresses arriving in court
General Aussaresses stands by his actions
An ageing French general who admitted torturing and killing Algerians has gone on trial in Paris, accused of acting as an apologist for war crimes.

Paul Aussaresses, 83, wrote a book detailing his role in the death of prisoners during the Algerian war of independence.

There is the duty of keeping your mouth shut - and then there is the duty of bearing witness

General Aussarresses
He faces a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a 300,000 franc - 45,000 euro - fine.

General Aussaresses told the court he did not regret writing the book, which reveals how he personally took part in the torture and killing of 24 Algerian prisoners.

"There is the duty of keeping your mouth shut. But that can sometimes serve as a cover for cowardice," he said.

"And then there is the duty of bearing witness."

He has previously insisted his actions were not reprisals nor punishments.

French troops during the Algerian war of independence
The Algerian war: Murky period of modern French history
The practice, he said, was sanctioned at the highest level because of the need to extract urgent information from the enemy. Then justice minister Francois Mitterrand was among the top-level politicians who knew and approved of the policy, he has said.

"It was a matter of stopping actions which were being prepared for deeds causing the deaths of my fellow French and Algerian citizens," he said.

Human rights groups in Paris wanted to prosecute General Aussaresses for war crimes, but that was impossible because of a 1968 amnesty relating to the Algerian war.

General Aussaresses is going to have to explain why he considered torture, kidnapping and summary executions to be normal and part of his military duty

Human Rights League president
Instead they have brought an action under a rarely invoked law that makes it a punishable offence to try to justify war crimes.

"General Aussaresses is going to have to explain why he considered torture, kidnapping and summary executions to be normal and part of his military duty," said the president of France's Human Rights League, Michel Tubiana.

The book, Special Services, Algeria 1955-1957, caused uproar when it came out in May because of its frank and entirely unrepentant tone.

General Aussaresses has since been stripped of his rank and the right to wear his military uniform, and has lost other military honours.

The book's publishers are facing similar charges of justifying war crimes.

I would do it again today if it were against Bin Laden

General Aussaresses
General Aussaresses has said he will not apologise for actions that took place in an entirely different moral environment.

"I had behind me 15 years of military service, during which I never refused an order. Certainly, officers may have disobeyed - at that point they were told: Get out, you will no longer be an officer," he said on Monday.

In his book he argues he was merely putting on record a historical fact, and speaking on the eve of his trial he repeated his view that torture was an unfortunate necessity.

"I would do it again today if it were against Bin Laden," he said.

See also:

06 Jun 01 | Europe
Torture general punished
14 May 01 | Middle East
French general in Algeria torture claim
04 May 01 | Europe
Chirac condemns torture general
07 Feb 01 | Europe
France plans Algeria memorial
07 Dec 00 | Middle East
Timeline: Algeria
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