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
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
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
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