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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 15:34 GMT
French veteran fined for excusing torture
General Aussaresses outside the Palais de Justice
The one-eyed general escaped a possible jail sentence
A Paris court has convicted a former French general of trying to justify the use of torture during the Algerian war and fined him 7,500 euros ($6,500).


Torture does serve a purpose and today I would do the same thing again if I had a Bin Laden in my hands

Paul Aussaresses
Paul Aussaresses, 83, admitted torturing and killing 24 Algerian prisoners-of-war in a book he published last year about the 1954-1962 conflict.

But under the terms of a post-war amnesty, he could not be tried for those crimes, and so human rights groups instead brought him to justice on a charge of being an apologist for war crimes.

Two of Aussaresses' publishers from the Plon publishing house were also fined 15,000 euros ($13,000 dollars) for the same offence.

Defence lawyers denounced the ruling as being tantamount to an act of censorship, and correspondents say it is likely to spark debate about the implications for freedom of speech in France.

Aussaresses' lawyer has already made clear he intends to appeal.

The maximum possible fine was 45,000 euros and five years imprisonment.

No regrets

In court in November, the one-eyed former Resistance hero said he had no regrets and that he would do the same again - especially if he had Osama Bin Laden in his hands.

French troops during the Algerian war of independence
The case has reignited debate about France's colonial history

He said to have kept his mouth shut about what he had seen and done would have amounted to "cowardice", insisting he had a duty to speak.

In the book, he expressed indifference about the deaths of hundreds of men who were killed on his orders.

He also justified torture as a legitimate war-time method for extracting information.

The Algerian war of independence was a brutal conflict with atrocities committed on both sides.

But the Aussaresses account was the first by a senior French officer which admitted that the use of torture was commonplace.

Reviewing the past

Shortly after the publication of "Special Services, Algeria 1955 - 1957", Aussaresses was stripped of his rank in the army and suspended from the national Legion of Honour.

The trial was one of a series of recent signs that France is reassessing its role in the Algerian war, which ended in 1962 after the loss of thousands of lives.

Last September, France held its first ever day of remembrance for the "harkis", the tens of thousands of Algerians who fought on the side of the colonial power and were left after the war to be killed by the victorious National Liberation Front.

The conclusion of the Aussaresses case also coincides with the row over the treatment of al-Qaeda suspects in an American prison.

Just a few days ago, Aussaresses appeared on an American television network to take part in a debate about the use of torture during wartime.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"The book created an outcry in France when it was published "
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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