November 6, 2007


French Journalist Henri Alleg Describes His Torture Being Waterboarded by French Forces During Algerian War (Amy Goodman, 11/06/07, Democracy Now)

AMY GOODMAN: We now turn to a real-life survivor of torture of the Algerian war. Henri Alleg is a French journalist who was arrested by French paratroopers in Algeria in ’57. Alleg was sympathetic to Algerian independence. He was interrogated for a month. He was questioned. He was waterboarded repeatedly. Alleg described his ordeal in an essay called "The Question," which was published in 1958 with a preface by Jean-Paul Sartre. The book was subsequently banned in France and legalized only after the Algerian war ended in 1962. Henri Alleg is eighty-six years old now, survived torture by French paratroopers, lives now in Paris and joins us on the phone. [...]

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe -- as you hear the debate in the United States around whether waterboarding is torture, specifically tell us about your experience of waterboarding. Where were you being held, and what exactly did the French military do to you?

HENRI ALLEG: Well, I have described the waterboarding I was submitted to. And no one can say, having passed through it, that this was not torture, especially when he has endured other types of torture -- burning, electricity and beating, and so on. So I am really astonished that this is a big question in the States about this, because the real question is not waterboarding or not waterboarding, it’s the use of torture in such a war, and this use of torture, torture in general.

A man liked General Massu, who was the chief organizer of torture in Algeria and who died about two years ago, asked about three months before his death what he thought of torture and the use of -- the general use of torture in Algeria, said that he regretted it and that the war could have been -- could have gone on without torture. In fact, torture is not the main thing in such a war. The war was against the Algerian people, and every kind of torture used against an Algerian man or woman would only help the Algerians to fight back, and that when a son knew that his father was tortured, he had only one idea, that is, join the fighters who had tortured his father. So, I don’t think this is the good question.

But to answer precisely your question, it is a terrible way of torturing a man, because you’re bringing -- you bring him next to death and then back to life. And sometimes he doesn’t come back to life. So, the use of torture, in my opinion, is a way of making all people fear that if they fight, if they join the fighters against Algeria, they would undergo such a treatment. So it’s the use of terror against the people who fight. It’s not a way of getting whatever information; sometimes they get it, but most of the time it’s useless. So it is not a way of winning a war, even if the people who lead this war say that they have -- it’s an obligation for them to use this method if they want victory at the end of the war. That’s my opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: Henri Alleg, I realize it was, what, about a half a century ago that you were held, interrogated and tortured. But I was wondering, since obviously I think most people, most in the civilian population, even soldiers, are not really familiar with what exactly waterboarding is. It has become almost a kind of catchphrase. Can you explain exactly what happened to you?

HENRI ALLEG: Well, I was put on a plank, on a board, fastened to it and taken to a tap. And my face was covered with a rag. Very quickly, the rag was completely full of water. And, of course, you have the impression of being drowned. And --

AMY GOODMAN: The “tap,” meaning you were put under a water faucet?

HENRI ALLEG: A tap, yes, tap water. So, very quickly, the water ran all over my face. I couldn’t, of course, breathe. And after a few minutes, fighting against the impression of getting drowned, you can’t resist. And you feel as if you were drowning yourself. And this is a terrible impression of coming very near death. And so, when the paratroopers, the torturers, see that you’re drowning, they would stop, let you breathe, and try again. So that impression of getting near to death, every time they helped you to come back to life by breathing, it’s a terrible, terrible impression of torture and of death, being near death. So, that was my impression.

How old is Abe Zelmanowitz today?

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 6, 2007 9:28 PM

Further, it's increasingly clear that there are 57 varieties of the thing called waterboarding. It appears that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had a more benign experience than Monsieur Alleg.

Posted by: ghostcat at November 6, 2007 9:51 PM

I would also note that Monsieur Alleg was put in fear of his life, but that he was not actually harmed. No scars, no missing digits or limbs. Just fear.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 7, 2007 8:04 AM