Shades of Abu Ghraib

The grisly subject of torture is back with us again. A look back at the dark days of de Gaulle's struggle to hold onto Algeria reveals consequences that echo loudly in our newest fight to retain what it means to be civilized.

Issue: Nov-Dec 2009

THE GRISLY subject of torture is back with us again, with fresh allegations of CIA misconduct. It is a subject which first came to occupy my thoughts when I was writing a book on the Algerian War, A Savage War of Peace, back in the 1970s. It has never left me. In the course of my researches in France, one of the men I came most to respect, Paul Teitgen, former French prefect of Algiers, remarked to me:

All our so-called civilisation is covered with a varnish. Scratch it, and underneath you find fear. The French . . . are not torturers by nature. But when you see the throats of your copains [buddies] slit, then the varnish disappears.

Teitgen was a thoroughly honorable man, and he has surely been proved a wise one since 9/11.

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