Paul Aussaresses (November 7, 1918 – December 4, 2013) was a French Army general, who fought during World War II, the First Indochina War and Algerian War. His actions during the Algerian War, and later defense of those actions, caused considerable controversy.
Aussaresses was a career Army intelligence officer with an excellent military record when he joined the Free French Forces in North Africa during the Second World War. In 1947, he was given command of the 11th Shock Battalion, a commando unit that was part of France's former external intelligence agency, the External Documentation and Counter-Espionage Service, the SDECE (replaced by the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE)).
Aussaresses provoked controversy in 2000, when in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, he admitted and defended the use of torture during the Algerian war. He repeated the defense in an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes, further arguing that torture ought to be used in the fight against Al-Qaeda, and again defended his use of torture during the Algerian War in a 2001 book, The Battle of the Casbah. In the aftermath of the controversy, he was stripped of his rank, the right to wear his army uniform and his Légion d'Honneur. Aussaresses remained defiant, he dismissed the latter act as hypocritical.
Aussaresses, recognizable by his eye patch, lost his left eye due to a botched cataract operation, not combat.
Aussaresses was born on November 7, 1918, just four days before the end of World War I, in Saint-Paul-Cap-de-Joux, Tarn department, in Languedoc. His father, Paul Aussaresses senior, was serving in the French military at the time of his son's birth because of the war.
In 1941, Aussaresses served a year as an officer cadet in Cherchell, Algeria. The next year, in 1942, he volunteered for the special services unit in France. He was a member of a Jedburgh team and a member of Team CHRYSLER which parachuted into France behind the German lines in August 1944. The Jedburghs worked clandestinely behind enemy lines to harness the local resistance and coordinate their activities with the wishes of the Allied Commanders. CHRYSLER deployed from Algeria via an American aircraft to work with the local French Resistance in Ariège. On September 1, 1946 he joined the 11th Choc Battalion and commanded the battalion from 1947 until 1948, when he was replaced by Yves Godard. Later, he served in the First Indochina War with the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment.
In 1955, he was transferred to Philippeville, Algeria, to be part of the 41st Parachute Demi-Brigade as an intelligence officer. He restarted his demi-brigade's intelligence unit, which had been disbanded during peacetime but was deemed necessary by the French Army who wanted to quell the insurgency of the 'Algerian rebels'. On August 20, 1955, the FLN (Algerian National Liberation Front) staged an attack against the police of Philippeville. Aussaresses states that he had information about this attack well beforehand and therefore he was able to prevent much of the possible bloodshed. The members of the FLN had also forced many of the men, women and children of the countryside to march in front of them, without weapons, as human shields. Aussaresses reports that his battalion killed 134 of these men, women and children, and that hundreds more had been wounded. He reports that two men from his own side also died, and that around one hundred others had been wounded.
In the spring of 1956, Aussaresses attended a top-secret training camp in Salisbury, England for a one-month training to prepare for the battle at Suez Canal. He returned to Bône, Algeria in May 1956 to continue exercises with paratroopers on their way to the Suez Canal. On June 1, 1956, he received a spinal fracture from a parachuting exercise, which prevented him from participating in the Suez operation.
General Jacques Massu, who had noted Aussaresses' work against the insurrections in Philippeville, ordered Aussaresses to work under him in Algiers as an agent to control the FLN in Algiers. Aussaresses reported for duty in Algiers on January 8, 1957. He was the main executioner and intelligence collector under Jacques Massu during the Battle of Algiers. On January 28, he broke a city-wide strike organized by the FLN using repressive measures. Soldiers forcibly dragged all public utilities workers to their jobs. Store fronts were torn open so that the owners had to open the store for fear of being looted. Later in 1957, he ordered his men to hang Larbi Ben M'Hidi, an important member of the FLN, as if he had committed suicide. In a separate incident he ordered that an officer throw Ali Boumendjel, an influential Algerian attorney, from the 6th floor of the building he was held prisoner in, claiming that Boumendjel had committed suicide. France decreed that both deaths were suicides, but Aussaresses admitted both assassinations in 2000.
Aussaresses contends, in his book, that the French government insisted that the military in Algeria "liquidate the FLN as quickly as possible". Subsequently, historians debated whether or not this repression was government-backed or not. The French government has always claimed that it was not, but Aussaresses argues that the government insisted upon the harsh measures he took against Algerians - measures which included summary executions of thousands of people, hours of torture of prisoners, and violent strike-breaking.
Aussaresses was quite candid in his interview in Le Monde forty years later (May 3, 2001):
"Concerning the use of torture, it was tolerated, if not recommended. François Mitterrand, the Minister for Justice, had, indeed, an emissary with Massu in judge Jean Bérard, who covered for us and who had complete knowledge of what went on in the night."Aussaresses justified the use of torture by saying how shocked he was by the FLN's massacre at the El Halia mine. He suggested that torture was a small but necessary evil that had to be used to defeat a much larger evil of terrorism. Aussaresses also claimed that he used these methods because it was a quick way to obtain information. He also defended its use by saying that the legal system was meant to deal with a peacetime France, not a counter insurgency war that the French army was faced with in Algeria.
In an interview to Marie-Monique Robin, Aussaresses described the methods used, including the creation of death squads (escadrons de la mort), the term being created at this time.
Following Aussaresses' revelations, which suggested that torture had been ordered by the highest levels of the French state hierarchy, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Jacques Chirac (RPR) to indict Aussaresses for war crimes, declaring that, despite past amnesties, such crimes, which may also have been crimes against humanity, may not be amnestied. The Ligue des droits de l'homme (LDH, Human Rights League) filed a complaint against him for "apology of war crimes," as Paul Aussaresses justified the use of torture, claiming it had saved lives following the Necessity Defense [AKA: Choice of Evils] and/or the Self-Defense (although he did not explicitly use this expression). He was fined 7,500 Euros by the Tribunal de grande instance court of Paris, while Plon and Perrin, two editing houses who had published his book in which he defended the use of torture, were sentenced each to a 15,000 Euros fine. The judgment was confirmed by the Court of Appeal in April 2003. The Court of Cassation rejected the intercession in December 2004. The Court of Cassation declared in its judgment that "freedom to inform, which is the basis of freedom of expression" does not lead to "accompany the exposure of facts ... with commentaries justifying acts contrary to human dignity and universally reproved," "nor to glorify its author." Aussaresses had written in his book: "torture became necessary when emergency imposed itself."
Aussaresses had a successful military career after the war. Unlike many of his fellow officers, he did not choose to join the OAS militant group to continue the fight in Algeria after the French military began to withdraw their forces. In 1961, he was appointed as a military attaché of the French diplomatic mission in the United States, alongside ten veterans of the Algerian War formerly under his charge. In the United States, he also served at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, alongside the 10th Special Forces Group, a military unit that specialized in tactics of unconventional warfare. There he taught the "lessons" of the Battle of Algiers", which allegedly included counter-insurgency tactics, interrogation, and torture. According to Aussauresses, he specifically taught lessons from Colonel Trinquier's book on "subversive warfare" (Aussaresses had served under Trinquier in Algeria). The Americans' Vietnam era Phoenix Program was inspired by these American students of Aussaresses, after they had sent a copy of Trinquier's book to CIA agent Robert Komer.
Aussaresses relocated to Brazil in 1973 during the military dictatorship, where he maintained very close links with the military. According to General Manuel Contreras, former head of the Chilean DINA, Chilean officers trained in Brazil under Aussaresses' orders and advised the South American juntas on counter-insurrection warfare and the use of torture that was widely used against leftist opponents to the military regimes in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay.
The character of Julien Boisfeuras in the novels The Centurions and The Praetorians by Jean Larteguy was according to Larteguy not based on anyone, but many believe that he was at least partially inspired by Aussaresses and Roger Trinquier.