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Interrogation techniques of the French in Algeria

During the mid 1950s the Front de Liberation Nationale (FNL) also referred to as National Liberation Front, an armed group which fought for the liberation of Algeria from its French colonial masters, declared an armed struggle for the emancipation of the Algerian people. This was followed by well coordinated attacks against key French installations throughout the country. This resulted in the French launching retaliatory attacks, which lead to the start of the great Algerian war which lasted for almost a decade from 1954 to 1962. By the time the war came to an end the French government had already committed more than half a million soldiers to suppress the uprising against its colonial rule. This was a war that combined revolutionary uprising tactics from the revolutionist and state instigated torture from the French administration (St. John, 2006).
During the battle for Algiers as the war is famously known, the French administration was highly criticized of using unconventional methods of interrogation on the national liberation front. Some of these strategies made use of human-powered power generators which were used induce torture to obtain vital information about the FLN`s uprising strategy (Morgan, 2005).
Torture can simply be defined as the deliberate inducement of severe psychological, physical and emotional pain in a show of cruelty, or as a strategy of intimidation, or as a measure of administering revenge and punishment, or as a device of retrieving information or confessions and as a means to deter would be aggressors. Torture is not new in history, for ages torture has existed in cases of differences in power, authority and control. Historically it has been viewed as a major theme in political, religious and military conflicts. Torture is also well evidenced in the community context through acts of child abuse, rape and incest, domestic abuse and neglect of the elderly. There are various forms of torture but the two main forms are psychological and physical torture. Physical torture is the most used common form of torture and can be very brutal, it may be visible to the naked eye or sometimes it may be very difficult to detect, it all depends on the strategies employed to administer the torture. Psychological torture is not widely known to the general public. Psychological torture is very subtle in its approach and is far much easier to hide than physical torture. Perpetrators of the heinous act often combine the application of both types of torture to propound the end effects of torture (Suedfeld, 1990).
The Rationalization of Torture
There is no acceptable reason, opinion or answer that can be given to justify the use of torture in interrogation of suspects or prisoners, the bottom line is that it is not rational. According to research carried out on torture and interrogation, it was revealed that individuals are stimulated or forced to talk because of the threat of physical violence against them. However, it was also revealed that, in all occasions of physical torture the interrogators did not actually get the information they were seeking. Sometimes interrogators may get the correct information (Fritz, 2005).
The rationalization of the interrogation methods used by the French military during the battle of Algiers can be viewed from different perspectives. The chief of intelligence at the time known as the French General Aussaresses supported the use of torture, by claiming that it was very useful in the efforts to crash the insurgence. However he admits that most of the insurgence barely retreated to the hills only to return during the withdrawal of French forces from Algeria. He argues that he was lead to believe that, the most efficient way to obtain information from a terrorist, who was adamant not to disclose any information, was through torture. From a utilitarian perspective of thought, is that the safeguarding or provision of security to the majority against a minority of terrorist can be viewed as grounds to validate torture. A top French military official by the name Col. Mathieu emphasized to his soldiers that they should first identify the enemy and then destroy him. Algiers was inhabited by over 400,000 Arabs at that particular time, and only a few individuals engaged in terrorism. To him torture was rationalized as the only way to deter a wide spread eminent assault on the French people, whose needs in his view outweighed that of the militants under French army`s custody (Terrorism and Torture, 2009).
Another perspective that rationalized torture during the Algerian war was the argument that, by virtue of the insurgence participating in terrorism, they had waived all their rights. Terrorist were perceived to be communist by the French authorities. To the French communists were inherently evil and any torture carried out against them was rational because, they believed terrorist had no ethical standards and hence had no rights to be violated. The rights of those not engaging in terrorism, out weighed those of who were caught in terrorism (Fritz, 2005).
These among other reasons informed the French`s decision to use torture during the Algerian war. The French army during the war had the obligation to provide security to the population as it continued with its search for the insurgence. It was at the French military`s discretion to use unconventional strategies such as torture, to derive information so as to achieve their goals. Consequently torture became something ethical; the French had an ethical obligation to suppress the insurgence by all means possible, to protect the lives and property of the French (Terrorism and Torture, 2009).
The Benefits of Torture
            The use of torture in the French interrogation procedures resulted to the dismantling of the Arab insurgence in a short period of time. Within a period of seven months, the armed insurgence movement and communication were totally destroyed forcing the insurgence to take cover in the mountains. The French were victorious early in to the battle because, they were able to successfully crash and eliminate the national liberation front network based in Casbah, a Muslim strong hold (St. John, 2006).
The Cost of torture
Even though the French military came out victorious in the first round of the war, they finally lost the war and were forced to withdraw from Algeria in 1962, when the national liberation front declared victory and independences from France. The use of torture as a tactic may have been successful in the short run, but it proved costly for the French as it increased support for the national liberation front from within and outside Algeria. The French military was also discredited, which led to the break in ranks in the military. This finally led to an assassination attempt on the French president De Gaulle. Torture also heightened political scandals in France which left the French traumatized (Morgan, 2005).
The battle for Algiers resulted in a lot of causalities on both sides; about 30,000 French nationals lost their lives, as well as about one million Algerians. More than 800,000 settlers from Europe popularly referred to as pied-noirs, were forced in to exile. Native Algerians who were recruited in to the French army were widely despised and labeled as collaborators. They were eventually tracked down and assassinated by the FLN administration. The Algerian war resulted in the collapse of six French governments, the fourth republic and almost led to a break of civil war (St. John, 2006).
            The French have shown that use of unconventional methods of interrogation such as torture can be an effective strategy in containing insurgencies. However, there is a negative side to it, torture in it self can not win a war. Loyalty of the citizens is more important in a war than the use of torture. By employing torture strategies the French lost the loyalty of it citizens, while the Algerians gain loyalty as a result of being tortured. Torture may provide short term tactical advantage; any toleration of use of torturer is bound to result in failure.
The use o torture bring with it more disadvantages than advantages. The moral principle of any contest, disagreement or conflict, whether it is against terrorism or insurgency, holds the key to success and victory. The united states in it war against terror, should borrow a leaf from the events in Algeria. They should not condone any form of interrogation that uses torture to retrieve information.

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