Algeria-Watch: Army and DRS heads are responsible and guilty
Army and DRS heads are responsible and guilty
Statement on the allegations of Farouk Ksentini regarding the responsibility of the Algerian state in forced disappearances
April 4, 2005
Farouk Ksentini, chairman of the National Advisory Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (CNCPPDH), submitted his report on forced disappearances to the president of the Algerian Republic, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, on 31 March 2005. He gave several interviews to the national and international media in which he stated: « These disappearances certainly occurred and are the work of people acting on behalf of state bodies. » However, he added the state is « responsible but not guilty ».
In an interview with the French daily Le Monde (3-4 April 2005), Ksentini made several false allegations. Without commenting on the content of the report itself, not yet published, Algeria-Watch is determined to establish the true facts regarding two of these false allegations, the consequences of which are particularly serious.
State « panic » and the « breakdown in the chain of command »
First, when asked about the role of the Algerian state in the thousands of forced disappearances that have occurred since 1992, Ksentini stated: « The war waged by the terrorists was so savage that the first person to disappear was the state itself. There was no longer anyone in command. The breakdown in the chain of command and the ensuing panic largely explain what occurred. »
This statement is completely wrong. There was no « breakdown in the chain of command » in the deployment of « anti-terrorist repression » by security forces. Worse still it was the heads of the security forces who coldly planned the policy of forced disappearances. Although many details have yet to emerge the available information – gleaned from enquiries by human rights organizations and the testimony of many dissident members of the police and military, but also of people who slipped through the net1 – attests to the fact that a policy of « undercover state terror » really existed and that it was based on widespread use of torture and forced disappearances.
In October 2003 Algeria-Watch and Dr Salah-Eddine Sidhoum produced a summary of information available at that time, published in a precisely documented report, Algérie, la machine de mort2. This study clearly established several points regarding the « chain of command » in the organization of forced disappearances:
– the policy of forced disappearance of people (real or suspected political opponents) kidnapped by the security forces developed into a widespread tactic from March 1994 onwards, at the initiative of the head of the army secret service (Intelligence and Security Department, DRS), major-general Mohamed Médiène (aka Toufik) and his deputy at the head of the Counter-Espionage Directorate (DCE) of the DRS, general Smaïl Lamari (aka Smaïn);
– implementation of this policy was closely coordinated with those in charge of the fight against subversion at the head of the National Popular Army (ANP), in particular major-general Mohamed Lamari, the ANP chief of staff, general Saïd Bey, the head of the Centre for the Conduct and Coordination of Anti-Subversive Action (CCC/ALAS) and commander of the first military region, and general Brahim Fodhil Chérif, deputy commander of the CCC/ALAS then chief of staff of the Gendarmerie, and subsequently commander of the first military region from 2000 to 2004;
– kidnapping, followed by forced disappearance, which became a systematic practice (above all from 1994 to 1998) was carried out by selected ANP, DRS, police and gendarmerie units. Coordination was mainly in the hands of the territorial research and investigation centres (CTRI), branches of the DRS in each of the six military regions, reporting directly to general Smaïl Lamari;
– the following DRS centres played a key role in organizing forced disappearances – victims were systematically tortured and generally executed: CTRI in Blida (Haouch-Ch’nou centre), commanded from 1990 to 2003 by colonel Mehenna Djebbar; Oran CTRI (Magenta centre), commanded by colonel « Abdelwahab », then commander Hamidou; Constantine CTRI (Bellevue centre), commanded by colonel Kamel Hamoud, then colonel Karim; the main research and investigation centre (CPMI) in Ben-Aknoun, headed from 1990 to March 2001 by colonel Athmane Tartag, aka « Bachir »;
– in all, Algeria-Watch pinpointed in its report no fewer than 95 secret detention, torture and execution centres involved in forced disappearances.
It is clear from this report, and the studies that have since complemented it3, that, contrary to what Ksentini has stated, it was not the panic that seized the apparatus of state in the face of terrorism that explains the forced disappearances – which he acknowledges – by security forces. Quite the opposite. Although their modus operandi remained secret throughout (as in all armed forces using illegal methods in the fight against insurgency), the chain of command underpinning the death machine was – and still is – strictly controlled by army leaders, primarily the heads of the DRS, generals Mohamed Médiène and Smaïl Lamari, who are still in place nowadays.
Drawing on eye-witness accounts the report has identified and named many of the officers and police making up the chain of command and responsible for forced disappearances. The most visible offenders have recently resigned under pressure (notably major-general Mohamed Lamari and major-general Brahim Fodhil Chérif, in August 2004) or been sidelined (for instance colonel – now general – Bachir Tartag or colonel Mehenna Djebbar). But most of them are still active. A genuinely independent judiciary – sorely absent in Algeria – could very well charge every single one of them, following up the complaints of the families of victims of forced disappearance.
« 500,000 Algerians brought before terrorism tribunals »
Secondly Ksentini has attempted to minimise the scale of forced disappearances, telling Le Monde: « In all more than 500,000 Algerians have been brought before terrorism tribunals. If we compare this enormous figure with the number of disappeared [6,146 cases, according to Ksentini], we may conclude that on the whole the matter has been correctly dealt with. »
This second claim – proof of criminal cynicism on the part of a lawyer – is just as misleading as the first, for several reasons:
– until Ksentini issued this statement, none of the available information, including from official sources, ever mentioned such a high figure for the number of people brought before the courts. On the other hand, what is known is that in the weeks following the January 1992 coup d’État, thousands of real or suspected Islamist opponents of the regime (15,000 to 30,000 depending on sources) were taken into custody for many months (some for as long as four years) without ever being properly charged. Subsequently, in the course of the innumerable clean-up operations and punitive expeditions organized by the security forces, tens of thousands of people were arrested. Here again it was the exception, rather than the rule, for them to be properly charged. Torture on the other hand was systematic. Furthermore, in September 1992 special courts were set up on the basis of the law on subversion and terrorism. According to official figures4, these courts tried some 15,000 people up to February 1995. However, several dissident officers have reported that from 1993 onwards, appalled by the number of people being released by the courts, the military high command – notably general Mohamed Lamari and general Smaïl Lamari – increasingly issued orders to their subordinates not to take prisoners, but to kill those apprehended on the spot;
– Ksentini is clearly contradicting himself: if the chain of command was broken and panic reigned in the security forces, how could they have managed « properly » to bring hundreds of thousands of suspects before the courts?
– not only does Ksentini fail to provide any source for the figure of 500,000 deferrals – for good reason, it having no basis in fact – but on 9 March, three weeks before his interview with Le Monde, he gave a different, significantly lower figure to the Algerian daily La Tribune, demonstrating that there is no basis for these fantastic claims. He said: « During that period, the security forces arrested almost 300,000 people for providing voluntary or forced logistics support for terrorism. These people were brought before the courts. Quite simply that means that in the vast majority of cases the authorities used the normal procedure, handing the accused over to the courts for judgement. Out of a total of 300,000 cases, only 6,146 were not brought before a court. Comparing the two figures makes it quite clear that on the whole matters were dealt with properly. Only a minority of cases proved an exception to this rule. That is a tiny amount compared with the 300,000 cases brought to court for assisting the terrorists »;
– even the figure of « 6,146 disappeared » is equally fantastic. Given the disorder prevailing in Algeria, it is impossible for any detailed, independent enquiry to have been carried out to determine the exact number of victims of forced disappearance. The families of many of those who disappeared are still afraid of DRS reprisals and consequently reluctant to come forward, even to contact associations set up by the families of the disappeared. (These groups have nevertheless managed to put together more than 7,000 files on forced disappearances.) According to the Algerian Human Rights League (LADDH) the number of people who disappeared due to intervention by the security forces is at least 18,000 (a figure to be compared with the one given by a dissident non-commissioned officer from the CTRI in Blida, former sergeant Abdelkader Tigha, who estimates that at least 4,000 « disappeared » people were executed in that centre alone).
A scandalous denial of reality
When he states, in his interview in Le Monde, that « contrary to what some NGOs maintain, the Algerian state did not use criminal, but perfectly proper methods to fight crime, » Ksentini is committing a scandalous denial of reality. Many of his other public allegations, in recent months, follow the same rationale. They show that the « cross-the-board amnesty » (itself largely based on the report by the Ksentini committee) on which president Bouteflika plans to organize a referendum shortly, is no more than an attempt to whitewash the crimes against humanity organized and perpetrated by the leaders of the security forces (and by armed groups claiming to act in the name of Islam, many of which – but not all, at least until 1995 – were manifestly manipulated or controlled by the DRS, to discredit the Islamist opposition and conceal crimes ordered by army chiefs5).
Algeria-Watch vigorously contests this attempt to alter the truth and appeals to all those, in Algeria and the world at large, so that truth and justice may prevail at last and not be stifled by the manoeuvres of the guilty and their accomplices.
1. See, for example, the testimony of M. Mohammed Sebbar obtained in November 2003 by the Algerian Human Rights Observatory (ODHA). Arrested in December 2002 he was held secretly for six months at the DRS centre in Ben-Aknoun, where he was brutally tortured. He says: « Once, in the course of an interrogation, colonel Hassan pulled out a pistol and said: ‘If you don’t tell the truth, I’ll kill you and you’ll join the list of disappeared and God knows we have put plenty of people on that list’. » (<www.algeria-watch.org/fr/mrv/observatoire/torture_sebbar.htm>).
2. Full text: <www.algeria-watch.de/fr/mrv/mrvtort/machine_mort/machine_mort.htm>.
3. See in particular the 19 files compiled by the Justice for Algeria Committee for the 38th hearing of the Permanent People’s Court on human rights violations in Algeria (Paris, November 2004), including: Collectif des familles de disparu(e)s en Algérie, Les disparitions forcées en Algérie, May 2004, <www.algerie-tpp.org/tpp/pdf/dossier_3_disparitions.pdf>; Jeanne Kervyn and François Gèze, L’organisation des forces de répression, September 2004, <www.algerie-tpp.org/tpp/pdf/dossier_16_forces_repression.pdf>.
4. ONDH (Observatoire national des droits de l’homme), Rapport annuel 1994-1995, Alger, 1996, p. 59.
5. See in particular the report produced for the Committee for Justice in Algeria: Salima Mellah, Le mouvement islamiste algérien entre autonomie et manipulation, May 2004, <www.algerie-tpp.org/tpp/pdf/dossier_19_mvt_islamiste.pdf>.
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