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Interrogation techniques of the French in Algeria Case Study

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Updated: Jan 13th, 2020


During the mid 1950s, the Front de Liberation Nationale (FNL), also referred to as National Liberation Front, declared an armed struggle for the emancipation of the Algerian people. This was an armed group that fought for the liberation of Algeria from its French colonial masters. This was followed by well coordinated attacks against key French installations throughout the country.

This resulted to the French launching retaliatory attacks, which led to the great Algerian war that lasted for almost a decade from 1954 to 1962. By the time the war ended, the French administration had already committed more than half a million soldiers to suppress the uprising against its colonial rule. This was a war that combined revolutionary uprising tactics from the revolutionist and state instigated torture from the French administration (St. John, 2006).

During the battle for Algiers, as the war is famously known, the French administration was highly criticized for using unconventional methods of interrogation against the National Liberation Front. Some of these strategies made use of human-powered power generators that were used to induce torture to obtain vital information about the FLN’s uprising strategies (Morgan, 2005).


Torture can simply be defined as the deliberate inducement of severe psychological, physical, and emotional pain in a show of cruelty. It is also a strategy of intimidation, or a measure of administering revenge and punishment. Torture is also a device of retrieving information or confessions. It is also used to deter the potential aggressors. Torture is not new in history.

For ages, torture has existed in cases of differences in power, authority, and control. Historically, it has been viewed as a major theme in political, religious, and military conflicts. Torture is also well evidenced in the community context through acts of child abuse, rape and incest, domestic abuse and neglect of the elderly. There are various forms of torture, but the two main forms are psychological and physical torture.

Physical torture is the most common form of torture and can be very brutal. It may be visible to the naked eye or sometimes it may be very difficult to detect. This depends on the strategies employed to administer the torture. Psychological torture is not widely known to the general public. Psychological torture is very subtle in its approach and is far much easier to hide than physical torture. Perpetrators of the heinous acts often adopt both physical and psychological torture in their mission (Suedfeld, 1990).

The Rationalization of Torture

There is no acceptable reason, opinion or answer that can be given to justify the use of torture in interrogation of individuals. The bottom line is that torture is not acceptable. According to research carried out on torture and interrogation, it was revealed that individuals are stimulated or forced to talk because of the threat of physical violence against them.

However, it was also revealed that, in all occasions of physical torture, the interrogators did not get the information they were seeking. Sometimes interrogators may get the correct information, but this is not guaranteed (Fritz, 2003).

The justification of the questioning models used by the French military during the fight against insurgency in Algeria can be viewed differently. The chief of intelligence at the time was known as the French General Aussaresses. He supported the use of torture claiming that it was very useful in the efforts to crash the insurgence. However, he admitted that most of the insurgence barely retreated to the hills only to return during the withdrawal of French forces from Algeria.

He argued that, the most efficient way to obtain information from a terrorist, who was adamant not to disclose any information, was through torture. From a utilitarian perspective, it was necessary and justifiable to safeguard and provide security to the majority against a minority terrorist group. In this case, torture against the terrorist group can be validated for the good of the society at large.

A top French military official, Col. Mathieu, emphasized to his soldiers that they should first identify the enemy and then destroy him. Algiers was inhabited by over 400,000 Arabs at that time, and only a few individuals engaged in terrorism. Torture was rationalized as the only way to deter a widespread eminent assault on the French people. In this respect, the needs of the French people outweighed that of the militants under French army’s custody (Bufacchi & Arrigo, 2006).

The other perspective that rationalized torture during the Algerian war was that, by virtue of the insurgence participating in terrorism, they had waived all their rights. Terrorists were perceived to be communists by the French authorities. The French held that the communists were inherently evil, and torture carried out against them was rational.

In this regard, the French believed that terrorists had no ethical standards and hence had no rights to be violated. The rights of those not engaging in terrorism were respected compared to those of individuals caught in terrorism (Fritz, 2003).

The reasons discussed above informed the French’s decision to use torture during the Algerian war. During the war, the French army had the obligation to provide security to the population as it continued with its search for the insurgents. It was at the French military’s discretion to use unconventional strategies such as torture to achieve their goals. Consequently, torture became something ethical. The French had an ethical obligation to suppress the insurgence by all means possible. This was aimed to protect the lives and property of the French (Bufacchi & Arrigo, 2006).

Torture Benefits

The adoption of torture by the French in interrogating the insurgents enabled the French to dismantle the Arab rebellion expeditiously. Within a period of seven months, the armed insurgence movement and communication were totally destroyed forcing the insurgents to take cover in the mountains. The French people were victorious because they were able to crash and eliminate the National Liberation Front network based in Casbah, a Muslim strong hold (St. John, 2006).

The Cost of torture

The French military came out victorious in the first round of the war. However, they finally lost the war and were forced to withdraw from Algeria in 1962. This is the time when the National Liberation Front declared victory and independences from France. The use of torture as a tactic may have been successful in the short run, but it proved costly for the French as it increased support for the national liberation front from within and outside Algeria.

The French military was also discredited, which led to break in ranks within the military. This finally led to an assassination attempt on the French president, De Gaulle. Torture also heightened political scandals in France, and this left the French traumatized (Morgan, 2005).

The battle for Algiers led to a lot of causalities on both sides. It is estimated that about 30,000 French nationals and one million Algerians lost their lives. In addition, more than 800,000 settlers from Europe, popularly referred to as pied-noirs, were forced into exile. The local people who were hired into the French army were widely scorned and labeled traitors.

They were eventually tracked down and assassinated by the FLN administration. The Algerian war resulted to the collapse of six French governments, the fourth republic, and almost led to a civil war (St. John, 2006).


The experience of the French has shown that the use of unconventional methods of interrogation such as torture can be an effective strategy in containing insurgencies. However, there is a negative side to it; torture cannot win a war. Loyalty of the citizens is more important in a war than the use of torture.

By employing torture strategies, the French lost the loyalty of its citizens. On the other hand, the Algerians gained the loyalty from the citizens as a result of being tortured. Torture may provide short term tactical advantage. Any toleration on use of torture is bound to fail.


The use of torture to the Algerian people is associated with more disadvantages than advantages. The moral principle of any contest, disagreement, or conflict, whether it is against terrorism or insurgency, holds the key to success and victory. The United States, in its war against terror, should borrow a leaf from the events that occurred in Algeria. They should not condone any form of interrogation that uses torture to retrieve information.


Bufacchi, V. & Arrigo, J.M. (2006). Torture, Terrorism and the State: A Refutation of the Ticking Time-Bomb Argument. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 23(3): 355-373.

Fritz, A., (2003). Terrorism and Torture. International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 17(1): 105-118.

Morgan, T. (2005). My battle of Algiers: A memoir. New York: Smithsonian Books/Collins.

St. John, R. B. (2006). Battle of Algiers, Battle of Iraq. Retrieved from

Suedfeld, P. (1990). Psychology and torture. New York [u.a.: Hemisphere Publ. Corp.

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