Henri Alleg


Henri Alleg

Henri Alleg (born 1921, in London), born Henri Salem, is a French-Algerian journalist, director of the "Alger républicain" newspaper, and a member of the French Communist Party. After Editions de Minuit, a French publishing house, released his memoir La Question in 1958, Alleg gained international recognition for his stance against torture, specifically within the context of the Algerian War (1954-1962).

Early life

Alleg was born Harry Salem in London in 1921 to a French mother and an Algerian father. After moving to Algeria in 1939, the then-18 year old became intimately involved with the Algerian Communist Party. He worked as editor-in-chief of the "Alger Républicain", a daily paper sympathetic to Algerian nationalism, from 1950 to 1955. In 1951, Alleg became director of the publication, which alone in Algeria advocated a free democratic press for Algerian grievances against France. The newspaper was banned in September 1955 by the French authorities due to its communist and anti-colonial perspective. In November 1956, after many of his colleagues at the newspaper were arrested by French colonial authorities, Alleg went into hiding, maintaining his journalistic connections by continuing to submit pro-independence articles to the French Communist journal "l'Humanité". Many of his articles never saw publication due to government censorship of writing that advocated Algerian independence.

Arrest

On June 12, 1957 Alleg was arrested on suspicion of undermining the power of the state by France's 10th Paratrooper Division in the home of his friend, mathematics professor Maurice Audin, who was arrested the day before and would later die under questionable circumstances while imprisoned. Alleg underwent one month of torture in El-Biar, a suburb of Algiers, despite the fact that no charges had been laid against him. While in French custody, Alleg was submitted to many kinds of cruel tortures, both physical and mental, in an effort to get him to reveal the names of those who had sheltered him for the past several months. His “treatment” consisted of electric shocks, burning, forced swallowing and inhaling of water to simulate drowning (now known as water boarding), and being hung from various appendages. He was also injected with an experimental dose of the barbiturate sodium pentothal, which was thought to be a kind of truth serum. Despite the intensity of his torture and the relentless pursuit of answers by the French “paras,” Alleg never talked or revealed the names of anyone who aided or abetted him in his undercover life. While imprisoned, French soldiers visited Henri’s wife and questioned her about his activities and whereabouts. She was not subjected to any use of force, but was considered under arrest for the five days of her questioning. “Algerians Told "Keep Out." The Times London Wednesday, Aug 14, 1957]

As his French torturers realized that Alleg would rather die than betray those who hid him, they transferred him to Lodi camp in Algiers, where he recovered at the Barberousse military hospital and prison. He wrote a letter to his wife confirming his presence at the Lodi camp and saying that he “hoped to regain his health, given rest and time.” It was here that Alleg wrote and smuggled out an account of his ordeal, entitled "La Question", to the French literary and journalistic connections he had made during his tenure at the "Algier républicain". His declarations of maltreatment were printed in L’Humanité in late July; however, the public remained in the dark about the situation as the French police promptly seized the whole of the issue in which Alleg’s claims were to be made public. Shortly after, in August 1957, Henri sent a similar account of his torture from the civil prison in Algiers to both lawyers and judicial authorities in Algeria. At this point in Algiers, rumors were flying in the Algerian press about his disappearance or even death. It was only with Alleg’s complaint and after a broad press campaign that Alleg was presented with an examining magistrate, two full months after his arrest.

The officers accused by M. Alleg publicly denied the charges levied against them. Robert Lacoste, then Minister of Algeria, claimed that an investigation was proceeding to determine the truth of the “allegations.” [“French Seize A Book on Torture Charges” New York Times 28 March 1957, pg. 6] The “trial,” which was held in November 1957, found Alleg guilty of attacking the external safety of the state and attempting to reconstitute a dissolved league. Military authorities sent in two doctors to examine Alleg; however, no one from outside the French government was allowed to see Henri after his transferral to Lodi. This raised suspicions in the public, at least to those who were paying attention. However, as a result of M. Alleg’s charges against the paratroopers, the general commanding officer in Algiers ordered an inquiry to be opened against “persons unknown” for “blows and injuries.” The military judge traveled with Alleg to visit the buildings in which Alleg claimed to be tortured and had Alleg describe the interior from memory in order to substantiate his assertions. Indeed Alleg was able to describe with a high degree of accuracy several parts of El-Biar, especially the kitchen where torture was known to occur. This suggested that he had truly been mistreated, for, had the interrogation proceeded “normally,” Alleg would not have been able to accurately describe the torture room. Despite this evidence that Alleg and others were actually tortured by the French paratroopers at El-Biar, the French government continued to ignore Alleg’s demands for justice and put him back into an army jail.

La Question and Censorship

Alleg’s memoir of his time spent in French custody was published by Éditions de Minuit as "La Question", a play on words referring to both the question of the legitimacy of torture and the fact that "la question" was the technical term for torture in the pre-Revolutionary French judicial system. Upon the initial publication on February 12, 1958, "La Question" met with no attempts at censorship and did not evoke an initial denial from the French government. [“Growing Pressure For Algeria Settlement.” The Times (London) 07 Mar 1958.] However the Ministry of the Interior did censor French newspapers that attempted to comment on or publish excerpts of the memoir. In one example, although at this point Alleg's book itself had been freely on sale for several weeks, the French government confiscated a March 1958 issue of "France Observateur" because the publication reproduced sections of Alleg’s book. At this point, the government accepted the memoir itself, but did not condone public discussion of Alleg’s claims and situation. [Part of this had to do with the censorship process of the French government, which as a legal “droit de regard” that allows a local government prefecture to read newspapers but not books before they are published.] Despite the seizure of articles pertaining to or citing the book, "La Question" itself became a “near bestseller and a subject of lively debate” in the French nation. [“French Seize A Book on Torture Charges” New York Times 28 March 1957, pg. 6] During this time, the French government also seized “A Victory,” an article published in "L’Express" [March 7, 1958] in which Jean-Paul Sartre outlined the implications of Alleg’s book for the French nation. [“Growing Pressure For Algeria Settlement.” The Times (London) 07 Mar 1958.] Although censored, this essay continued to be distributed clandestinely and later became the preface to the book’s English translation.

As rumors of torture proliferated and public discussion turned increasingly critical, the French government officially banned "La Question" in hopes of combating France’s increasingly tense political atmosphere. Acting on a warrant from the military tribunal which recently began legal action in connection with “attempted demoralization of the Army with intent to harm the defense of the nation,” French authorities seized the 7,000 remaining copies at the Èditions de minuit publishing house on the 27th of March 1958; [“Police Seize Algeria Book Visit To Publisher's Office.” The Times (London). 28 Mar 1958.] however, they could do nothing about the more that 60,000 copies that had already been sold. [Books and Authors. New York Times (1857 - Current file); ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2002), pg. 27] "La Question" continued to sell, clandestinely or otherwise, over 162,000 copies in France alone by the close of 1958. [Nichols, Lewis. “In and Out of Books”. New York Times. 25 Jan 1959.] After the initial seizure, other leftist French publishers continued production of the book, a defiance that continued well throughout the Algerian War despite the official ban. [Change Of Mind By Algerian Leaders Reported Readiness For Talks (News) FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT. The Times (London) Wednesday, Nov 18, 1959; pg. 10; Issue 54621; col B] On the day "La Question" was seized, the French government released information that the inquiry into the alleged torture of Alleg was nearly completed. They claimed that although doctors had noted scars on M. Alleg’s wrists and groin, the officers accused by Alleg continued to deny the charges levied against them, and therefore no charges were brought against the French government. [A Tactical Success For M. Gaillard Independents Brought To Heel (News) FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT. The Times (London) Saturday, Mar 29, 1958; pg. 5; Issue 54112; col B]

Escape and return to France

Alleg escaped from prison and made his way to Czechoslovakia. With the passing of the Evian Accords in 1962, Alleg returned to France and then Algeria. He helped rebuild the Alger Republicain and continued to publish numerous books and appear in several documentaries.

Works

*"Grande aventure d'Alger républicain" (co-authored with Boualem Khalfa and Abdelhamid Benzine), 1987

*"Prisonniers de guerre", 1961

*"Le Question / The Question" (Introd. by Jean Paul Sartre), 1958

*"Requiem pour l'Oncle Sam", 1991

*"U.R.S.S. et les juifs", 1989

*"Victorieuse Cuba : de la guérilla au socialisme" (Preface by Boualem Khalfa), 1963

References

External links

Video

* [http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/11/05/1538212 Interview with Henry Alleg] from "Democracy Now!" program, November 5, 2007

See also

*Torture during the Algerian War
*Censorship in France


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