We accuse 80 000 times

We accuse 80 000 times

John Sweeney, The Observer 16 November 1997

We accuse. 80 000 times A corrupt and hated government has been killing its people for six years, while the West turns a blind eye. John Sweeney demands action now to halt the massacres.

Last May I went to Algiers. The flight takes less time than to your average Greek orTurkish package holi-day. It takes a fraction of the time it takes to get to Rwanda or Iraq or any of the other countries where evil things happen. And there, a hop south from Majorca, is a country with the worst human rights records on eaath: the Blow-torch Democracy. I wrote a story, detailing the evidence that the state’s securite mihtaire was tortur-ing and killing its own people. Nothing happened. In July I reported Peter’s story. He was a ship’s engineer who had been blowtorched i= n Algeria’s gulag. The skin on the inside of his arm was webbed and dry, like a falcon’s claw. The blowtorch was not the worse. Nothing happened. This summer, hundreds of people were massacred in the killing fields south of Algiers. The world’s suspicions grew. Reporters such as Robert Fisk of the Independent, Anthony Loyd of the Times and Saira Shah of Channel Four News produced fresh evidence of the government’s complicity in killing, confirming what the Observer had said. Last week we reported the story of Joseph, an Algerian secret policeman haunted by the murders and tortures his masters had commanded. Something happened. The story exploded in Algiers, London, Paris and Rome. The Algerian ambassador to Italy was called in ‘for consultations’. The nex= t day, the Italian ambassador to Algeria was, in his turn, called in, ‘for consultations’. The office of the Italian Prime Minister quoted British intelligence sources dismissing Joseph’s story. The office of the French Interior Ministry dismissed the story. The Algerian ambassador to London, His Excellency Ahmed Benyamina, dismissed the story as ‘fanciful’ – All these dismissals had one thing in common: they were delivered at one remove. The state of Algeria and Its friends in the Western chancelleries prefer, on this subject, to work in the dark. No one is denying the cruelty and murder committed by Islamic extremists in Algeria. But the weight of evi-dence indicts the state of Algeria. Around 80,000 people have been killed since the generals cheated the people by scrapping elections in 1991. The government -le pouvoir- is corrupt, hated and stays in power by a reign of terror. Consider the evidence from Amnesty International Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Human Rights, Reporters Without Frontiers; evidence from Algeria’s own state-controlled media; evidence held by policemen in London, Paris and Rome. Let’s take three examples. In July 1994, the Group of Seven world leaders, meeting in Naples, were horrified to learn that seven Italian sea-men had had their throats cut by ‘Islamic extremists’ in the Algerian port of Jenjen, near Jijel. That day, President Clinton condemned this latest Islamic atrocity, and the West agreed. Last week, Joseph told us the killers were his colleagues in the secret police. Who do we believe? Jenjen was, at the time of the massacre a heavily guarde= d naval dockyard, in a military zone, with a naval barracks a few yards from the ship where the Italians were butchered. If ex-tremists were the killers= , they had to pass the military con-trol, tiptoe by the barracks, slit the throats of the Italian crew, unload 600 tonnes of cargo, which was found to be missing, and tiptoe back with-out being spotted. In 1995, a series of bombs went off in Paris. Islamic extremists were blame= d and the West agreed. Joseph told us the men who planned the bombs were Gen-erals Tewfik and Smain, com-manders in the Algerian secret police, and the operation was controlled from the Algerian embassy in Paris. After the bombings, the then French Interior Minister, Jean-Louis Debre, was asked at an off-the-record lunch whether It was possible the Algerian secret police had been behind th= e bombings. He said: ‘The Algerian securite militaire would like us to go up the wrong trail so that we can eliminate people who annoy them.’ In 1997, three huge massacres took place south of Algiers. All three happened in a heavily guarded zone, surrounded by army barracks. It akes a long time to slit the throats of 200 people. No one has been brought before the Algerian courts for any of the big massacres. The killers, the regime admits,’left undisturbed’. Then there are the archives of Amnesty international and the other human-righs groups: case after case of torture and death, indicting the securite militaire. Either these trusted groups ar= e conspiring against the state of Algeria, or their reports are true. The Islamic extremists ‘responsible’ for these massacres belong to an organisation known as GIA, the Armed Islamic Groups. Their last three spokesman in London have not been Algerian, but Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian. Talk to the IRA, by contrast and you find Irishmen. Joseph and others say the GIA have been ‘turned’ by the Algerian secret police. If this is true, then the world knows who to blame for the killings. In normal countries there a simple way for abuses of power to be made public: jour-nalism. In Algeria, some 70 journalists have been killed by ‘Islamic extremists’. Not a single. person has been convicted of killing an= y one of these 70. Dead journalists don’t ask questions. The only Algerian journa1ists allowed near the massacres are bosom friends of the Le secret police. Last May I met one. We had a philosophical conversation about the uses of torture. She was in favour. Our conversation ended on unfriendly terms. The true story of what is happening inside Algeria has not been told. What we are seemg is akin to Virginia Woolf’s view of Dostoevsky: ‘The little bits of cork which mark a circle upon the top of the waves, while the net drags the floor of the sea and encloses stranger monsters than have ever been brought to the light of day before.’ Now something of the truth is beginning to come out, thanks to Joseph and a few other brave souls. They risk murder and great harm to their loved ones in so doing. But we in the West are not in danger. So why the silence? Let us not underestimate the power of the state of Algeria. It squats on huge oil and gas deposits worth billions. It sup-plies the gas that warms Madrid and Rome. It has a =A31.8 billion pounds contract with British Petroleum. No West-ern government wants to make trouble with the state of Algeria. Its wealth buys silence, buys complicity. Since the military junta over-threw the country’s democ-racy, 80,000 have been killed: Europe’s gas bill. In the face of the mountain of evidence against the junta, the Observer makes its posi-tion clear. We accuse the state of Algeria of mass murder. W= e accuse the state of Algeria of mass torture. And we accuse the state of Algeria of abandoning the rule of law. We want answers, not denials, a commission of inquiry Into the killings. Europe and the international community must act. And we want everything to be in the open, in the light. Iast week I was asked on to BBC World Television and challenged on Joseph’s story. At the end of the interview, the presenter said the BBC had asked the Algerians fo= r a comment, but none had been forthcoming. That’s not good enough. So, come on, Your Excellencies, stand up for Algeria. Explain to the world what has been happening. How come the Islamic extremists tiptoed past the navai battacks in 1994? Who planned the -Paris bombs? How come no one has been charged for the massacres? How come no one has been charged for the killing of any of the 70 dead journalists? You wouldn’t be afraid of the light, would you, Your Excellencies?

 

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