Torture at the Heart of the Algerian System of Power

T’kout, Tizi-Ouzou, Serkadji, Châteauneuf…

Torture at the Heart of the Algerian System of Power

Algeria-Watch, 5 June 2004

On the 14th May 2004, riots erupted in the city of T’kout (wilaya of Annaba in the East of Algeria) as the people demanded to know the truth about the death of 19-year-old Argabi Chouaïb, killed the previous day by a communal guard in the neighbouring village of Taghit. His friend, Ali Remili, had been kidnapped and detained at the militias’ barracks.
The Algerian authorities’ response was fast and brutal: special units of soldiers and policemen were dispatched on the 17th May to T’kout, where they were let loose upon the people.

They initially concentrated on young men, insulting them, beating them up and dragging them across the ground as they took them to the police headquarters. Then the town was blockaded and no one was allowed to enter or leave. Finally, the forces carried out a systematic manhunt, violently breaking into people’s homes, mistreating women and children, and forcibly capturing young men, often minors, some of whom were members of the Chaouia movement and were suspected of having taken part in the riots.
According to sources, approximately 150 people were arrested, and others, who went into hiding, are still being pursued. In order to force them to hand themselves in, members of their families have been taken hostage or threatened.

At the police headquarters of T’kout, the young people arrested physically and psychologically tortured. They were beaten with truncheons; they were undressed and lined up along a wall to be sodomised. A significant number suffered bone fractures. Some were coerced into praying naked. They endured a litany of hatred, insult and humiliation – including countless threats directed at their mothers and sisters. They were forced to sign fake witness statements and reports. To this day, a number of young men are still detained as a preventive measure.

Twenty-one young men were tried at the court of Arris on the 24th May. The lawyers’ numerous attempts to broach the subject of the torture suffered by the victims were blocked by the judge who relied solely on the documents supplied by the police. They were condemned to varying prison sentences, from three to twelve months. These sentences were repeated during the trial of six men on the 31st May.

T’kout is everywhere
The methods of torture recorded at T’kout are not an ‘accident’ and are not due to ‘overzealousness’ on the part of the policemen involved: They are part of the ‘death machine’ set up and perfected by the authorities since 1992, in which torture is used as a system to ‘crush the individual’.

This ‘death machine’ created to keep the putsch’s generals and their military and civilian supporters in power, is supported by the State’s entire web of power, the administration and judiciary included. At the head of this apparatus of terror was General Médiène, known as ‘Toufik’, chief of the DRS (Department for Information and Security). His henchman was the chief of the DCE (Department of Counter-Espionage) Smaïl Lamari, known as ‘Smaïn’. The DRS coordinated the ‘antiterrorist’ battle in collaboration with General Mohamed Lamari, who since Autumn 1992 has organised the ‘special forces’ of the army at the heart of a new institution, the CCC/ALAS (Centre of Administration and Coordination of the Anti-Subversive Struggle), and who subsequently since July 1993 became the Commander-in-Chief of the ANP. The regular army, the police and the regional guard are entirely implicated in the war that military waged against the civilian population. In 1994 alone, hundreds of thousands of civilians were enrolled in the communal guards or self-defence groups (militias known as ‘patriots’) to assist the military in their terror campaigns.
In this devastated country, repression existed in the shape of dozens of secret detention centres: of the DRS, the regular army, the police and of numerous other militia groups.

During the nineties, the most barbaric forms of torture were practised on an industrial scale by all the military and paramilitary organs, as well as the police, creating tens of thousands of victims, many of whom died or disappeared.

It is necessary to stress that systematic and generalised torture had never disappeared ever since the independence of Algeria. After 1962, it was used as an ordinary weapon to keep opponents in check, and this continued throughout the years, with deep intensification after the eighties: the barbaric repression in October 1988 after student protests and the strike of the FIS in June 1991; the putsch of January 1992, which paved the way for the State’s hyperviolence that was to last for years; the arbitrary arrests and barbaric torture of over one hundred civilians in Dellys in December 1999, following the bomb attack on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, only months after he was appointed in April 1999 and just after the law of ‘civil concord’ was passed; the manhunt during the riots in Kabylia, provoked by the assassination of a young man by police in April 2001; without forgetting the tens of thousands more known and unknown cases.

Torture is a means to simultaneously destroy both the social cohesion that would otherwise enable resistance against the arbitrary use of violence, and the physical and psychological integrity of the individual. Thus, it lies at the very heart of a perverted system of power, controlled since the early nineties by a handful of generals behind a pseudo-democratic façade composed of complying civilians, who are aware of the regime’s reliance on torture such as the use of the ‘chiffon’ (cloth – where the detainee is tied to a bench, a cloth is stuffed into his mouth and large amounts of dirty water mixed with chemicals are poured in), ‘gégène’ (electric shocks to testicles, earlobes and other sensitive parts of the body) and of the ‘chalumeau’ (blowtorch used to burn the face and other parts of the detainee’s body).

Contrary to what the ideologists of ‘civil concord’ and reconciliation have been trying to make people believe since 1999, state terrorism continues to act ruthlessly in Algeria. The structure of the mechanism of repression is maintained and continues to be perfected, the secret detention centres are still operational, emergency laws have not been abolished, and the executioners are still at their posts, where they benefit from complete immunity. As for the victims of state violence, they are simply not recognised.

As long as this ‘death machine’ stays in place, with its institutions, centres and officials, as long as these crimes committed by agents of the State are justified by the ‘struggle against subversion’, making every protester and opponent a ‘terrorist’, all discourse of reconciliation will only help to reinforce the impunity of the executioners and the State’s denial of responsibility.

This reality is known to all. It is time for the leaders of the international community to cease distributing brownie points to those who have bathed the country in blood and have set it on fire, and who continue, under the guise of an ‘international struggle against terrorism’, to commit these barbarous crimes against the population.