The Junta in Court

The Junta in Court

Algeria-Watch, September 2002, Translation from german

From July 1 to 5, 2002, a trial of great significance and consequence took place in the 17 th criminal division of the Parisian court.

General Khaled Nezzar – who was Algeria’s Minister of Defense from July 1990 until July 1993 and a member of the HCE (Haut Comité d’Etat, Hoher Staatsrat) from January 1992 until January 1994 [1] – brought a claim of slander against Officer Habib Souaïdia, author of the book, The Dirty War [2]. His claim however was not based on the descriptions of the practices of military officers in the book, who, under the pretense of fighting terrorism, allowed for, or indeed ordered, attacks on the civil population, torture and extrajudicial killings. Nezzar took much more offense at the statements made by Souaïdia during the Droits d’auteur program broadcast by France 5 television on May 21, 2001:

« They [the generals] make the decision. There are no presidents. They are the ones who decided to cancel the elections. They are really the ones responsible (.) I cannot forgive General Massu and General Aussaresses for the crimes that they have committed, just as I cannot forgive General Nezzar. (.) The Generals have killed thousands of people. They are too cowardly. A Minister of Defense who claims to have protected the republic. About whom are these people speaking. He leaves France in the middle of the night, [3] he does not have the courage to say, « If you have something against me, I am here, address it to me, ».He is not a Major General, he is a djoundi [simple soldier], so someone must be brought to trial. »

The trial was scheduled to last five days, a length of time that in light of the topic of the proceeding reveals its political nature. The plaintiffs, like the defense, summoned approximately 15 witnesses from political circles, the media and human rights organizations as well as numerous victims of the violence.

The use of the French court by one of the most influential Algerian military figures, even though Soua ïdia had already been convicted in absentia to 20 years imprisonment in April for membership in a secret organization and insurrection in the army, astonished many since others who quit the military had levied serious and personal accusations against Nezzar without having been prosecuted. For example, Hichem Aboud, a former member of the secret service, claimed that Nezzar killed his own wife with his hands. [4]. Souaïdia explained that he did not want to exonerate the armed Islamist groups, but that as a former member of the military, he wished to disclose and denounce the unlawful practices and crimes of the army. In so doing, he would be fulfilling his duty and seeking to uphold the honor of the once-glorious army.

In reality, the trial was not about the allegations contained in the complaint, since, as was revealed during the proceeding, Souaïdia’s allegations were neither particularly original nor invidious for they had been expressed by numerous politicians, journalists and army dissidents. Nezzar and numerous witnesses emphasized that the trial was not about the harm done to the reputation of one person, but rather about the fact that Habib Souaïdia sought to discredit an entire institution, namely the army, in his book. The goal of the trial was to remedy the image that Souaïdia and others had spread throughout Europe by setting the record straight as to the « truth » about the Algerian system and the events since 1992. In particular, the trial was intended to repudiate the allegation that the Algerian army had committed massacres or that, due to its acquiescence, was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. Nezzar and his allies sought to advance the truth that the context was a fight against terrorism conducted by an entire population, the government and the army.

That the trial was not just a personal matter is demonstrated by the fact that the Algerian state paid for all of the costs (legal fees of Nezzar, witness expenditures, etc.). [5]

The above makes clear that the Algerian military leadership took the initiative and made every possible effort to avoid the threat of charges of crimes against humanity. [6] Five years ago, as the largest massacres – each costing hundreds of lives — were being committed, [7] the public and representatives of international institutions (Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, representatives of the American government.) expressed outrage about the crimes and urged the Algerian government to identify those who were responsible and to better protect the population. The question was presented, « Who is doing the killing? » Four large human rights organizations [8] issued an appeal for the deployment of an investigatory commission to look into the question.

As a result, a gigantic propaganda machine was set into motion that accused everyone, who dared to ask the above question, of being complicit with terrorism. The conventional wisdom in Europe was that Islamists were exclusively responsible for the massacres and that in light of the Islamist crimes, the human rights violations committed by the security forces could be ignored. The French media set the tone. The others followed. [9] In the meantime, Algeria’s diplomatic corps, with France’s assistance, put a lot of effort into frustrating the demand for an investigation into the massacres. [10] For a while, the scheming of the Algerian regime appeared to succeed . Nevertheless, as a result of international and national pressure, they were forced to concede to the existence of torture and the practice of disappearances. There was now a new red line that could not be crossed: to say that the Algerian army had committed and/or acquiesced in the massacres.

The wall of silence however continued to crumble: thanks to the courageous fight of the relatives of the disappeared, the State’s crimes and the responsibility of the security forces are now known. Official accounts reflect a count of approximately 5,000 disappeared (Bouteflika even spoke of 10,000 when he assumed office), even if State responsibility continues to be disavowed or downplayed. Increasing numbers of military deserters and witnesses are exposing not only the fate of the disappeared, but also the use of Islamists as instruments in the massacres and the role of the death squads and militias in these crimes. The silence is slowly ending. [11]

The reaction of the European, and above all the French, public led to a definitive change in the assessment of the violence in Algeria. Though the subject remained taboo until 1999, the Algerian officials’ responses to persistent questioning as to the perpetrators of the massacres were deemed to be insufficient. Though the anti-Islamist discourse did bear fruit, particularly after September 11, 2001, few could seriously advance the notion that the Algerian army served to shield the population from the « fanatics, » and accordingly, was democracy’s savior.

Since the Pinochet affair and the increasing discussions of the International Criminal Court, a new perspective has been introduced into the struggle against perpetrators of state human rights violations. The prospect of prosecuting the junta leaders prompted three additional victims of State repression to press charges against General Khaled Nezzar in April 2001, who at the time was presenting his memoirs in Paris. [12] With the help of French authorities, he was able to leave the country the same day . Nezzar was unable to travel to France for months, although the complaint had been dismissed. Nevertheless, it was now possible that renewed charges would be brought against him if he traveled to France and that he would face a hearing or even possible arrest. In light of the forthcoming trial in France, the General decided to protect himself: on April 24, 2002, the attorney for the plaintiffs was informed for the first time that pursuant to the wishes of the defendant, Nezzar, the case had been reinstated and heard the the case on April 4, 2002. The prosecution had come to the conclusion that no new information had been added and that the charges should again be dismissed. As a result, nothing hindered Nezzar’s entry into France and he could appear at trial despite previous charges that had been brought against him.

The court made clear that it perceived the trial to be a political matter and that France, for numerous reasons, did not want to agree to a trial based on claims of torture. Nezzar, however, went a step further: by initiating the trial in France, he tested the French government’s position towards the conflict in Algeria and its sympathetic stance towards the Algerian military. This was essentially the Algerian military’s goal in the prosecution: to entrap French politicians into becoming even more complicit with the Algerian regime.

A Political Trial For Both Sides

The plaintiffs’ goal was to clear the Algerian regime of the charges that it had committed massive human rights violations, even crimes against humanity, and in order to ensure French and European support. For the defense, it was an opportunity to bring a military dictator of 10 years to trial, to identify those who were responsible, to describe the suffering of the victims and to reveal the truth in a legal context. Of particular significance was the ability to make representations within a courtroom as to the controversy over the nature of the Algerian regime. In contrast to a conference, witness statements are made under oath and recorded. Witnesses must anticipate that they may be confronted with their own statements in the future.

Of course, the trial had above all a symbolic dimension, though words were spoken, events were described, statements and justifications were issued, the consequence of which is still to be proven. Throughout the course of this article, we will reproduce sections of the trial transcript in translation.

When Politicians Take Responsibility for a Military Coup!

Nezzar set the tone in his opening statement:

« After the first pluralist election of December 1991 – January 1992, the country found itself on the edge of an abyss and saw itself in danger of sinking into irrationality and barbarism with the rise to power of the « Crazy Gods. » The outcome of the first election would have resulted in the republic’s inevitable regression into the darkness of a totalitarian regime from centuries ago. ( ..) Shouldn’t the nation have been protected against this deadly regression and as a result, shouldn’t the election have been nullified? Was the nullification a rape of democratic principles? This was the horrific dilemma that had to be immediately and definitely resolved..

I have to defend my honor here as well as fulfill my moral obligation to defend the Algerian army. »

Proof of his and the army’s innocence was adduced by the fact that the charges of torture brought against him in April 2001 had been dismissed.

From the beginning of the trial, central questions were debated: Who authorized the annulment of the election process? Did President Chadli voluntarily resign or was he forced to resign? What role did the army play in these different events? The discussions generally focused on the periods of unrest in October 1988 and in May and June 1991 during the FIS general strike since Nezzar was at the center of power during that time period. Therefore, we will confine ourselves to the period after the annulment of the election.

Sid Ahmed Ghozali, who was prime minister at the time of the annulment of the election, explained that the military leadership did not involve itself in political developments and that civil society, the entire political body and the military had demanded the nullification of the election results.

« And it was not just the military, but the military, the government and civil society that faced a choice. Even assuming that the discussion allowed for a continuation of the election process. Civil society, the parties, almost everyone, 90% of the parties came into my office to say: « You cannot leave and cede power to the Islamists! »

Contrary to the above statement, it is well-known that the representative opposition, namely the FIS, the FLN, the FFS, the PT [13] and others, who together received over 80% of the votes, spoke out against the nullification.

Ghozall continued and alleged that President Chadli Bendjedid had wanted to resign for a long time and that he did resign after the first election results. He thereby contradicted the statements of one of his ministers, LeÎla Aslaoui, who also testified under oath that President Chadli Bendjedid had wanted to share power with the Islamists.

Ali Haroun, who was a member of the HCE and who at the time was the Minister for Human Rights, responded in the following way to the question of his opinion as to the role of the army in the annulment of the election:

« I am of the opinion that from that moment forward as all of the democrats, workers, intellectuals, and artists fell victim to these Crazy Gods, the Algerian army was objectively an ally to the Democrats. What were their long-term goals? I do not know. But generally, the army was our ally, and we survived thanks to the army. (…) The Algerian army helped the democrats. As we called for help and decided to fight this plague. »

The stance of some politicians, who continue to exonerate the military today – 10 years after the coup -, was reflected in the witnesses presented by Nezzar. The military intervention is justified by the cry for help from the political class and civil society. However, their claims are exaggerated, when they contend that they themselves made the decision and the military only executed the decision. They allegedly were the ones who decided to nullify the election and to bring back Mohamed Boudiaf, the former member of the resistance, who was murdered six months later. They supposedly declared the state of emergency and ordered the construction of the concentration camps and the repression. In case they are ever summoned before a criminal tribunal, they will have to face up to their former statements.

A glance at the composition of the former institutions reveals who was making the decisions: within Sid Ahmed Ghozali’s government, the Minister of Defense was General Khaled Nezzar and the Interior Minister was General Larbi Belkheir, who was one of the most influential, if not the most important, man in Algeria. [14]. According to provided testimony, Chadli Bendjedid’s explanation of his resignation was written by Nezzar, Ali Haroun and General Touati. [15] The HCS (Haut Comité de Sécurité, High Committee for Security), which became the highest decision-making structure after the presidency was vacated and the parliament was dissolved, consisted of six people, including three of the most important men in the military (Nezzar, Belkheir and the head of the army, General Guenaïzia).

Ms. Chevillard, journalist and distributor of the specialized magazine, Marchés d’export/Nord-Sud Export , was called as a witness for the defense. Regarding the resignation of Chadli Bendjedid, she said that this idea stemmed from the three military men: « They called General Benabbès Ghezaïel, head of the gendarmerie, to them. Because of the pressure that they applied, Chadli felt forced to resign . The only three Major Generals in office were against him. »

Interestingly, three weeks after the trial, Sid Ahmed Ghozali provided a completely different rendition of the role of the army than the rendition provided during the trial: [16]

« In Algeria, there is power that is visible (pouvoir) and power that is indiscernible. All of our institutions are fictional. Only the military institutions really exist. […] When one speaks of the military institutions, only a ‘handful’ of people are relevant, who on behalf of the army have all of Algeria under their control, not just the institutions that they represent.But everything that they did occurred in collusion with the political class in the context of an exchange: we have the power and you the accountability. That means that we make the decisions and you are responsible for them. (…) The army officially withdrew itself from politics in 1989, but who appointed Chadli, who named Ghozali as President, who appointed BelaÎd Abdesslam [President and Minister of the Economy from July 19, 1992 until October 25, 1993] , who brought Boudiaf back and who appointed Zeroual and the current President of the Republic? On the contrary, I allege that it is better when the military has the courage to take over, such as, for example, the Turks, and gives civilians the opportunity to be primed for holding power for five to ten years, but to proceed in this fashion is not possible.

Is this a late insight into the prescribed roles of the politicians and into the danger inherent in the takeover of power or is it a proclamation as to an important change in the representation of power in Algeria?

Who Called for the Annulment of the Election?

The discussions with many witnesses revolved around the big demonstration on January 2, 1992 that was organized by the FFS. There is no doubt that the appeal from Aït Ahmed served to mobilize the 40% of the voters who did not vote in the election, so that thes voters would vote against the FIS. The motto was: « Neither a military dictatorship, nor a fundamentalist dictatorship. » The plaintiff’s witnesses then sought to prove that the people who went to the demonstration, and most notably, called for the demonstration, were responsible for the annulment of the election.

LeÎla Aslaoui, a former Minister in Ghozali’s government and a later Senator, claimed that the recently founded National Committee to Save Algeria (CNSA, Comité national de Sauvegarde de l’Algérie) called for the demonstration in order to prompt a military intervention. The slogan was : « No to a second ballot; army, stand with us! » Why I was asked have we turned to the army for help? Simply because the army represents the last bulwark that can save us.

The annulment of the election resulted in thousands of deaths. However, Mr. President [of the court], if there had not been an annulment of the election process, there would have been millions of deaths. They would have been executed in public instead of being murdered by the terrorists. We, the civil society, the citizens, pled with the army to stop the election process, and if they had not done it, I would not be here today serving as a witness, because I would have no respect for the institution. Therefore, I will take full and complete responsibility for the annulment of the election process. »

A further witness for the plaintiff, Omar Louins, a unionist, presented himself as one of the founding members of the aforementioned National Committee to Save Algeria, which served as the spokesperson for civil society, although it actually only represented a tiny group of supporters of the military coup. This group consisted of, in addition to the heads of the former Unity Party , small peripheral parties and individual persons. Since the group was not particularly representative of Algerian society, people like Lounis and Aslaoui in hindsight draw upon the demonstration on January 2, 1992 to claim that it was organized for the purposes of annulling the election. The fact is that the most important parties did all they could to prevent a military intervention.

Boudjedra, an author, stated repeatedly that he called for an army intervention: « I wanted.I wished that the army.that General Nezzar would intervene to protect Algeria from almost 30 years of Khomeinismus in Iran and five or ten years of the Taliban. »

One person was able to enlighten the court as to these significant demonstrations, namely Aït Ahmed, head of the FFS, who was called unexpectedly as a witness for the defense. He was not only the organizer of the march, but he also met with General Nezzar twice, according to outstanding eyewitnesses to the events. The first time, Nezzar probably wanted to see him to recruit him as chairperson of the HCE or as member of the board. Aït Ahmed used the meeting with Nezzar to urge him to keep his promise not to intervene. Nezzar told him, « We will never intervene. » Aït Ahmed proceeded, turning towards Nezzar:

« So, Mr. Nezzar, you organized the coup. I held a press conference the next day and said: ‘Let’s call this thing by its name. The way that everything played out, this was a coup. »

After the coup on January 11, 1992, Nezzar wished to see Aït Ahmed again. Ahmed repeated the conversation, during which Nezzar asked him:

« ‘What has to be done?’ I said: ‘Negotiate now before the violence begins, and I know people who are moderate enough to accept the act.’ You did not agree to negotiate. And at the end – remember this well, I am under oath – you said to me: ‘Give me the names of the FIS leaders, whom you believe to be moderate.’ I answered: ‘General, when you make a public statement that you intend to negotiate, I will provide you with the names.’ After this, was there a possibility of a political solution to the problem? The solution was available, one only had to want it. »

When the defense told Aït Ahmed that some witnesses would claim that the demonstration on the 2 nd of January followed an appeal to nullify the election, he was very surprised:

« Someone told you that? That is remarkable to me. One of the reasons that I was induced to meet with Khaled Nezzar was to obtain the necessary permission for the January 2 demonstration since they had prevented the demonstration in June. He said to me: ‘Understood, I can assure you that it will take place.' »

He confirmed that this demonstration served to mobilize non-voters for the second election. It was not about calling for an intervention by the army, but instead about preventing the FIS from obtaining a two-thirds majority through new votes.

The Algerian Military Democratatorship

The discussion eventually turned to the nature of the regime: on the one hand, some claim that the regime is a growing democracy, led by a civilian political class that would have been seriously threatened by the FIS if the army had not intervened and freed Algeria of barbarism; on the other hand, some describe the regime as a military dictatorship, that is not identified as such and that has held onto power for ten years since the initial takeover in 1992. Mohamed Harbi, a renowned Algerian historian, indicated during the proceedings that the military interventions were not selective interventions, but that a strong military presence and the military secret service have shaped the nature of power in Algeria since the War of Independence.

« If I were to summarize in one sentence what I wrote about throughout my career, then it would be that I view Algerian history as a process, which, as in Prussia, lead to the creation of a militarized State, namely, a State that served an army instead of an army that served a State. (.) During its development, the army inverted the roles of the civilian sector and the army: While in the Parti du people algérien [Party of the Algerian People, the first nationalist party in colonial Algeria] , the military strength of its paramilitary organizations served its politics, the relationship between the civilians and military have been reversed since 1957. The civilians were placed under orders of the military and the situation has remained that way. The military was weakened to a significant extent between 1962 [Independence] and 1965 [military coup lead by Colonel Houari Boumediène] . However, since 1965 we have witnessed the development of what Algerians call ‘the system’ which can be described as a military regime with a civilian façade. »

As a matter of fact, the military rarely appears in the forefront, but it has instead understood how to use and ‘exploit’ civilians for its own interests. These facts are underscored by the numerous Presidents and governments that have ruled the country in name since the annulment of the elections, while the heads of the secret service and the army have remained the same.

José Garçon is a journalist who works for the French daily newspaper Libération and a long-time observer of the events in Algeria. She corroborated the statements of Mohamed Harbi:

« Civilian agencies and military power? I always have the feeling of preaching to the converted when I say that civilian power in Algeria is a fiction. The powerful in Algeria are very attentive to and sensitive to the image that they present to the outside world. It was always very important to them to present a civilian façade. The remarkable or the unusual as to the Algerian regime was that it hated appearing as a military power. One hates military coups in Algeria, they never look like coups. In addition, the Algerian press found a brilliant definition for the dismissal or the ‘forced resignation’ of President Chadli Bendjedid, in which they characterized it as ‘a sofa coup.’ One couldn’t have found a better description. »

In 1995, Mrs. Chevillard drafted a study on Algeria in the context of her aforementioned newspaper, in which she analyzed the development of its political system and the functions of its various protagonists in terms of politics, security and the economy. She commented that we find ourselves facing a platitude:

« With respect to the nature of the power, things were very simple. Then – and this was not something new – the true leaders in Algeria appear to be part of the military hierarchy. I can say that this is an historical constant in Algeria.

The more legitimacy the power lacked, the more legality it sought to appear to have: I think it was a method of compensating for one with the other. »

The Murder of Boudiaf

Boudiaf, who after the annulment of the election was called out of exile in Morocco to head the HCE, was intended to represent the civilian façade due to his history as a fighter for the resistance and a permanent part of the opposition. During the trial, Mrs. Chevillard was asked by one of the plaintiffs why Boudiaf was returned:

« One stood before a judicial and constitutional vacuum. It needed legitimacy. Boudaif possessed this historic legitimacy and the Majors General who brought him back thought they could win him over because they knew how strong his opposition was to Islamist theories. In the end, he came. »

He came and legitimated the massive repression in addition to introducing his own agenda. Mr. Benderra, the former head of a State bank who was responsible for handling Algeria’s international debt between 1989 and 1991, explained regarding Boudiaf:

« He said openly that the corruption was inherent to the system. Mr. Boudiaf was in all likelihood killed – according to many of his political friends – because he took the initiative to combat corruption in the highest levels of the machine. »

This « declaration of war  » against corruption that he not only vocalized, but also actualized fiercely displeased the military leadership. When he then announced his intention to establish a political party, he became dangerous for the « decision-maker » and had to be disposed of.

José Garçon explained: « According to the Algerian press, which cannot be accused of having supported the Islamists, he was killed by the so-called Political-Finance-Mafia, a euphemism that was often employed in the ’90s to describe the various holders of power. »

It is generally assumed that Boudiaf was murdered upon orders of the secret service. His family has repeatedly made that proclamation, and his son went so far as to want to press charges against General Larbi Belkheir. [17] During the trial, a former colleague of Boudiaf, Ahmed Djebbar, who served as a Minister after his death and was called by Nezzar as a witness, explained that Boudiaf was murdered by a bodyguard and that there was no reason to doubt this version of events. A serious investigation was never initiated and the findings were never made public.

Aït-Ahmed said: « It is very obvious that one didn’t want to just put on a media show, but also to set an example for others. » [18]

Human Rights Violations

The topic of human rights violations was consistently central to the debate. Both sides called forth victims as witnesses, as well as famous human rights activists (for the plaintiff, Kamel Rezzag-Bara, former head of the now dissolved Observatory for Human Rights and for the defense, Patrick Baudouin, former head of the FIDH). The court did not concern itself with the details surrounding the extent of the State violence, but instead inquired into the instrumentalities, intentions and methods and the entities responsible for the orders of violence. Much was touched upon, but there was not enough time to delve deeply into some important details.

Ali Haroun, former Minister for Human Rights, testified on behalf of the plaintiff. In his position as Minister, he played a decisive role in covering up and minimizing the human rights violations that took place during the suppression of the FIS organized national strike in May-June 1991 and the consequent repression. He revealed little as to the actual subject, but spoke in detail about the dangerous threat posed by the Islamists. In one of the concrete examples, upon which he expounded in depth, he recounted that during the election campaign of 1991, posters with photographs of the five HCE members were hung in all the mosques and demanded the murder of the men. What a faux pas! The HCE was first founded after the annulment of the election.

Today he takes responsibility for the decrees and writs that led to a significant curtailing of freedom of opinion and freedom of movement. The first concentration camps in the southern part of the country were built during his term. Haroun did not only legitimize their use as « administrative detention, » but emphasized their legality since they were based on French laws. He ensured that legal means existed for appealing one’s detention. However, he eluded the questions of how long people were detained and how many of them were detained for the intended 45 days with the possibility of an extension to 90 days, and did not respond to them.

The attorney for the defense remarked that in the list of attacks by security forces compiled by the Algerian government [19], no instances of torture or other massive human rights violations had been documented. Ali Haroun responded:

« It is very rare that a soldier who confesses to killing says: ‘I killed him after I tortured him.’ If you are a judge, you can only consider what has been established. We have 386 convictions. »

The convictions however only involve robberies and similar offenses. His colleague, Kamel Rezzag-Bara, who was chairperson of the ONDH (Observatoire national des droits de l’homme, Observatory for Human Rights) for eight years, was more precise in his statements. Although he hardly addressed the issue of the conditions of detention in the camps, which were opened at the beginning of 1992 – during his term – and officially closed at the end of 1995, he claimed that his institution advocated for the closing of the camps. He stated:

« Unfortunately the state of emergency is in effect, even though the cause for its enactment no longer exists: no special courts, no curfews, no security centers. Nevertheless the state of emergency is still in effect, and there are many of us who are campaigning for its repeal. »

However in his testimony, he neglects to mention the fact that most of the provisions in the September 1992 decree to fight terrorism, which for example led to the establishment of the special courts, were incorporated into the civil code.

In response to the question regarding the thousands of disappeared, he explained:

« As a result of the terrorist violence, practices have developed that one had only seen in Afghanistan. They are the same terrorist practices that the first terrorist groups that came from Afghanistan used in Algeria. One of these practices is to disguise going underground as a disappearance: the person has gone underground, but the family, in order to avoid any difficulties, claims that the ‘disappeared’ was abducted by security forces, thereby making the state agencies responsible. »

Although in most cases the families and organizations present persuasive evidence and proof which demonstrate the systematic practice of disappearances, Rezzag-Bara proceeded to describe the deceptive practices of the families. He even boasted that his institution was the first to address the issue!

On the plaintiff’s side, one made an evident effort to downplay the various reports and appeals from international institutions. It was claimed that the situation in Algeria is clear, that the issue is exclusively a ‘problem of terrorism’ that the institutions have finally recognized as such and that as a result, the institutions now support the Algerian government in its fight against terrorism. Even if aggressive condemnation could have been anticipated from UN institutions, it is a falsehood to claim that the institutions did not condemn the massive human rights violations by the State.

Patrick Baudouin presented the situation from a completely different perspective: he reported on two FIDH missions in Algeria and on the one hand, their findings as to the horrific extent of attacks and torture on the part of security forces and on the other hand, the incredible efforts on the part of officials in Algeria to suppress and cover these incidents up.

The testimony of Nacera Dutour, mother of a young man who was abducted and disappeared in 1997, and Abdelkader Mosbah, who coincidentally became a victim of mass detention in January 1992 and who experienced the conditions in a concentration camp and torture in a torture center, were very telling and unnerving.

As mentioned above, in the mean time, torture and the disappearances are human rights violations that are increasingly discussed in Algeria, even if the officially designated human rights activists do not do so willingly. However, this is not the case with the massacres. Officials attribute responsibility for the massacres exclusively to the Islamist camps. Rezzag-Bara was also asked about the background on this and he responded:

« One has to understand the fundamentalist Islamist ideology. I do not want to put forth any evidence on this, but it is clear that for these extremist fundamentalist groups, the only law is the law of God, and the only government is one that adopts the law of God. These people, who believe to have been called to power and who want to adopt this kind of civil code do not accept that one can have different opinions in one way or the other. »

However, he failed to explain why the civilian groups who voted for the FIS in 1991 were most targeted by the massacres. The explanation provided to Hélène Flautre by General Nezzar appears to be more conclusive, as she, a European delegate, called upon him in Algiers in the context of her investigatory trip as to the incidents in the Kabylia. She recalled his statements:

« ‘In the fight against terrorism, the logistics , upon which the Maquis are dependent, constitute 90% of the fight . If one cannot get to the fighters, one has to get to the logistics.’ (…) Of course [said Mrs. Flautre] when you are being questioned and they hear this, you ask yourself, what are the ‘logistics.’ They are the people that support the Maquis. Do you understand? »

Still other explanations were presented that were not mutually exclusive. Hocine Aït-Ahmed stated outright:

« The massacres that took place in Algeria, I swear to it, were the way for various factions within the power structure to solve their problems. One seized not only power, resources and memory, but when ‘they’ wanted to solve their internal problems, they sent each other messages in which they targeted specific people. »

The Role of the Secret Service

When the massacres are discussed, the question of who conducted them is always presented. The official version, as we learned above from Rezzag-Bara, is that the GIA (Groupes islamiques armés, Armed Islamic Group) were responsible for the atrocities. For years, there have been indicators that the GIA were infiltrated, manipulated and that some of them were even created by the secret service. Two very important witnesses for the defense confirmed these suppositions during the trial. Mohamed Samraoui, Colonel and right hand man to the head of counter espionage, described the development of the GIA since the end of the 1980s. He stated that the men, who fought in Afghanistan were very well-known to the secret service DRS (Département du renseignement et la sécurité, successor to the Sécurité militaire) and were infiltrated by the DRS. However, not just the radical groups were infilitrated, but also within the FIS, some cadres worked for the secret service. The goal was to prevent the FIS from obtaining power. Everything was done to split the party, to pay off the party officers or to put pressure on them. Small groups were also founded or infiltrated that were supposed to work on behalf of the DRS by carrying out violent acts in order to legitimate interventions by the State. [20]

With respect to the pending election in December 1991, Samraoui said that the DRS warned the government to suspend the election because a FIS victory was certain:

« The government remained stubborn or made a serious miscalculation. It believed that the FIS party was divided into proponents for the election and those that wished to boycott it, that the FIS party was divided and that the FIS had been weakened. [21] The government wished to take advantage of this situation. The government attempted to establish a second FIS with 17 members of the FIS leadership, who had close ties to the security forces, so that the FIS would be in the minority at the election. It really believed that the FLN would win the election or that the government would maintain a « three-thirds majority » in Parliament. [22]

After the election was nullified, known members of extremist groups were not arrested, according to Samraoui, but the political parties were instead supposed to be entirely destroyed, which ultimately occurred.

« The problem was that we had lists of people. The count totaled between 1,000 or 1,200, (.) people, of whom it was assumed that they would act at any given time. Until the election, no violent incidents had taken place. Unfortunately, this did not last – I do not know why – and people were arrested that were neither involved with the FIS nor involved with the Islamists. Then I realized that the goal was to radicalize the Islamist movement. (…) One needed them to further infiltrate the movements and to create Islamist terrorist organizations. »

Samraoui went even further by claiming: « The security forces created the GIA. (…) It was undertaken in three stages. The first was the infiltration, the second was the infiltration of the existing core, the MIA, and we were successful. »

The second witness, Ahmed Chouchen, chief of the special units, was charged with subversion, arrested in the beginning of March 1992 and sentenced to three years in prison. Upon his release, he was immediately abducted by secret service agents and brought to the torture center in Ben Aknoun. He was subjected to extortion.

« I was in the torture center in Ben Aknoun and the director general told me that the security forces had decided to execute me and that I could not escape them. My only chance was to work together with them. (.) They presented me with a plan to execute some of the heads of the Islamist party. They told me their names. It concerned leaders who had gone underground: Mohamed SaÎd and others. I told them that I did not want to be involved in their criminal plans. I was ready to collaborate with them on a mission that was striving towards an Algerian reconciliation. I was ready to contact everyone for a big reconciliation. I told them that the people that they wanted to execute were academics and political cadres: one could negotiate with them. I said that I believed that the people, who needed to be countered with violence, were the Zitounis [23] because they killed children and women. (…) Colonel Bachir, the head of the torture center in Ben Aknoun, participated in the discussion. He told me: ‘Leave Zitouni alone, he is our man, you will work together with him.' »

Chouchen asked for time for consideration and did not appear at the next meeting. In the meantime, he prepared to flee Algeria. [24]

The Meaning of the Trial

These explosive disclosures correspond to the findings of various secret service agencies (to the extent that these are even known). For example, the British secret service intercepted a conversation between the editor of the GIA publication in London and his men in Algeria. The call came from an Algerian barrack. [25] Former Islamists and deserters of the army and the security service have related similar things. [26] José Garçon confirmed this during the trial:

« French politicians had many questions with respect to the role of the Algerian agencies in manipulating the Islamists. It is obvious that the bombs [series of attacks in France in 1995] were probably planted by the Islamists. But we return to the question of what the true nature of the armed Islamist groups in Algeria is: in the French political body, many are asking questions about the role that the Algerian secret service could have played in the attacks. »

During the proceedings, no one denied that the Islamists were responsible for human rights violations, though the question continually emerged as to who some of these « terrorists » are, particularly with respect to the GIA. Because Nezzar’s witnesses attributed a substantial portion of the attacks to the Islamists, thereby characterizing all existing groups and organizations as terrorists, they provided a very simple explanation for the complex situation. It was their priority to disavow the repression by the State and its responsibility for major violations. In the meantime, it is now an established fact that State officials not only manipulated and infiltrated terrorist groups, but also founded them.

While those in power do all they can to purge themselves of the « ballast » of the human rights violations (even though massacres continue to be conducted, people continue to be arrested and tortured on a daily basis, etc.), by identifying the disappeared as victims of terrorism and by promising damages to their families, the trial served to demonstrate that without a revelation as to the truth and an identification of those responsible, reconciliation and peace will not be possible.


[1] The HCE is not an institution that is established by the Constitution. It came into being after the resignation of President Chadli and was supposed to carry out the functions of the Presidency until the end of its mandate in December 1993.

[2] Habib Souïdia, Der Schmutzige Krieg, Chronos Publishing, 2001.

[3] On April 25, 2001, a complaint was filed against Nezzar in France on reasons of torture. The same day, Nezzar was flown back to Algeria.

[4] Hichem Aboud, La Mafia des généraux, JC Lattès, 2002.

[5] Sid-Ahmed Ghozali, former Prime Minister (1991-1992), who was called as a witness by Nezzar, revealed this in an interview with the weekly newspaper El Khabar el-usbu’i (July 20 – 26, 2002).

[6] This is a well-known reaction of the junta. When inquiries and complaints are anticipated from international institutions, such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, false reports on the disappeared or extrajudicial killings are generated. Abdelkader Tigha, a former member and deserter of the secret service, who worked in one of the most notorious torture centers (Bilda), spoke of this in: North South Export, Les révélations d’un déserteur de la SM, September 21, 2001,

[7] See Algeria-Watch, Infomappe 2, October 1997, /infomap/infom2.html and Infomappe 3, /infomap/infom3.html

[8] Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, FIDH and Reporters sans Frontières drafted the appeal in October 1997.

[9] A good example are the media statements of the prominent French philosophers André Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Lévy, who went to Algeria in January 1998. Both claimed upon their return to have understood everything and that the question of « Who is doing the killing? » is « obscene. » Their articles were also translated into German and published. The television station, Arte, joined in the campaign with a lurid evening on January 22, 1998, dedicated to the topic of the massacres.

[10] A European troika, a delegation of European representatives with a French chairman and a UN delegation traveled to Algeria after the big massacres in 1998 with the outcome that an investigatory commission was no longer spoken of. See Algeria-Watch, Infomappe 6, October 1998, /infomap /infom6.html

[11] See Algeria-Watch, Infomappe 2 and 3, /infomap/infom2.html, /infomap/infom3.htm, Nesroulah Yous, Qui a tué à Bentalha, Paris 2000, Habib Souaïdia, op. cit., Youcef Bedjaoui, Abbas Aroua, Meziane Aït-Larbi, Inquiry into the Algerian Massacres, Editions Hoggar, 1999.

[12] See: /farticle/nezzar/plainte_nezzar.htm

[13] FIS : Front islamique du salut (Islamic Salvation Front), FLN : Front de libération nationale (National Liberation Front), FFS : Front des forces socialistes (Front of Socialist Forces), PT : Parti des travailleurs (Workers Party).

[14] Larbi Belkheir rarely held a seat in the front row. For years, he was head of President Chadli’s cabinet and Interior Minister from October 1991 to July 1992. Since September 2000, he has been an advisor to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He is characterized by many observers as the most powerful man in the military junta.

[15] General Touati belongs to the influential military men that oppose a dialogue with the FIS.

[16] el-khabar el usbu’i, op. cit.

[17] See regarding the details of the murder of Boudiaf: Maol, l’affaire Boudiaf,; Hichem Aboud, op.cit (S. 149ff), and regarding the intention of Nacer Boudiaf to file a complaint: and belkheir_boudiaf2.htm

[18] Boudiaf was murdered in front of the cameras during a public speech in Annaba .

[19] A list was provided to a UN delegation that was conducting an informational trip to Algeria, in order to rebut the criticism of the human rights organizations that the government does not prosecute the attacks by the security forces.

[20] Mohamed Samraoui had worked in the Algerian embassy in Germany since 1992. In 1996, he abandoned his position and was granted political asylum in Germany. He likely disclosed his knowledge of the « fight against terrorism » in Algeria to German security forces so that they were informed of DRS involvement with the armed groups.

[21] In May – June 1991, a FIS general strike took place to protest the changes to the election laws and to demand an early Presidential election. Although security forces were controlling the strike, the army intervened and arrested hundreds of FIS political cadres and detained them. The structures of the party suffered major damage and for a long time, it was unclear whether the FIS would participate in the Parliamentary elections.

[22] The three-thirds majority means: a third for the FLN, a third for the « democrats » and a third for the FIS.

[23] Djamel Zitouni, head of the GIA from September 1994 until July 1996, was alleged to be a DRS man. He was executed by his successor, Antar Zouabri, who was also a DRS man that had been held for dead repeatedly and continually resurfaced. During this year, he appeared to have been executed definitively. His corpse was displayed in the media.

[24] See the testimony of Captain Chouchene on page 18ff of this Infomappe.

[25] Patrick Forestier, « Derrière les tueries, de sordides intérêts immobiliers et fonciers », Paris-Match , October 9, 1997.

[26] See Algeria-Watch, Infomappe 2, 3 and 4.