Algerian Torturers Tell the Truth

By Extracted from an Article by Robert Fisk, The Independent, UK

The Independent has obtained evidence that thousands of men and women have been "disappeared" by police agents of the military-backed regime in Algeria. And for the first time, members of the Algerian security forces - now seeking asylum in Britain - have given fearful testimony of mass torture by government agents, murder in Algerian police stations and secret burials by the security forces.

We all knew it was happening in Algeria. For more than four years, released prisoners had told us of water torture and beatings, of suffocation with rags, of how their nails were ripped out by interrogators, of how women were gang-raped by policemen, of secret executions in police stations. But never before have members of the security forces provided the compelling evidence to prove the brutality of the Algerian regime.

And with documentary testimony that thousands - some say as many as 12,000 - men and women have been "disappeared" by a government that claims to be fighting "international terrorism", Algeria's military-backed government will find it hard ever again to win sympathy in the West. A police officer who was in charge of the Algiers' city police armoury has described to The Independent how his colleagues killed prisoners in cold blood, how police torturers suffocated prisoners with acid-soaked rags after tearing out their nails and raping them with bottles. A 30-year old Algiers policewoman has told of how she watched prisoners - at the rate of 12 a day - tied half-naked to ladders in the Cavignac police station in Algiers while, screaming and pleading for mercy, salt water was pumped into their stomachs until they agreed, blindfolded, to sign confessions.

The same policewoman admitted to signing false death certificates to prove that dead prisoners had been "found" decomposing in the forests south of Algiers. A 23-year old army conscript spoke of watching officers torture suspected "Islamist" prisoners by boring holes in their legs - and in one case, stomach - with electric drills in a dungeon called the "killing room". And he claimed that he found a false beard amid the clothing of soldiers who had returned from a raid on a village where 28 civilians were later found beheaded; the soldier suspects that his comrades had dressed up as Muslim rebels to carry out the atrocity.

No guerrilla war is clean. No army or police force fighting ruthless insurgents will maintain its honour unscathed. And the Extremists in Algeria, which have carved a unique and dreadful reputation for themselves as the most savage guerrillas on earth, can expect little mercy at the hands of its government opponents. They have attacked Algerian villages for more than a year, cutting the throats of women and children, burning babies alive in ovens, disembowelling pregnant women and slaughtering old men with axes. They have even employed a mobile guillotine on the back of a truck to execute their enemies.

But evidence that the massacred villagers were themselves Islamists, and increasing proof that the Algerian security forces remained - at best - incapable of coming to their rescue, has cast grave doubt on the government's role in Algeria's dirty war.

Indeed, repeated claims that the slaughtered villagers were "accomplices" of the Extremists has raised suspicions that the Algerian regime, which seeks European support in its war against armed opponents, may have had a hand in provoking the slaughter. But the firsthand evidence from its own former security force personnel of torture and secret executions provides unequivocal testimony that the Algerian government has gone beyond the pale of civilized standards of warfare in fighting its enemies.

Among the names of "disappeared" men and women given to The Independent by an Algerian lawyer are those of young women uninvolved in politics - let alone religious extremism - of old men and, in one case, a paraplegic in a wheelchair. A 28-year-old woman called Amina Bensli-mane, who was arrested almost three years ago by security police, is believed to have died under torture at the Chateauneuf police station in Algiers. The relatives of another woman have been told that the bones of one of her feet were broken while she was being interrogated about her brother who is a suspected member of an opposition group.

Confidential evidence from another Algerian lawyer states that a young newly married woman was raped in front of her husband to force him to reveal details of an Islamist group to which it was alleged he belonged. In the past, released prisoners have told of the gang-rape of women prisoners - in one case the rape of a grandmother who was dragged from a torture room covered in blood. Most of the torture in Algiers is carried out in two police commissariats, at Chateauneuf and at Cavignac.

These two torture centres exert terror over the population of Algiers where - on the evidence of two women whose loved ones have been arrested, never to be seen again - men and women are now taken from their homes without arrest warrants or the production of identification papers by the security forces. "You cannot compare 'excesses' with putting babies in ovens," a government official told The Independent in Algiers last week. The frightful reality, however, is that the two sides are now competing in cruelty.

Inspector Abdessalam, who was in charge of police ordnance at the Dar al-Baida police station near Algiers international airport, has described how he watched as suspected "Islamists" were interrogated by torturers - some of whose names have been given to The Independent.

"Sometimes .... prisoners were forced to drink acid or a cloth was tied to their mouths and acid poured over it," he said. "Prisoners were forced to stand next to tables with their testicles on the table and their testicles would be beaten .... A small number of prisoners gave information. Some preferred to be killed. Some died under water torture." Similar testimony came from a female detective called Dalilah who watched two men die strapped to a ladder in the Cavignac police station when their stomachs burst after salt water was pumped into them.

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