Henri Alleg, La Question

About a year ago, I bought and watched Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers. The booklet in the set included a bibliography that mentioned a small book by Henri Alleg, La Question.

Alleg is a French citizen who supported Algerian independence through the newspaper he published in Algiers. In 1957 he was arrested. La Question is his first-person account of his capture and torture. The book was banned in France for years, though it circulated and was a major contributor to the French finally pulling out of Algeria.

Last week I read it in the Bison Press translation, The Question. Unlike the current French edition, the translation includes Sartre's 1958 Preface and a very recent "Afterword" by Alleg. The parallels to Iraq and Abu Ghraib are striking. It is not pleasant reading (and much is lost in translation), but it feels like essential reading.

The "Afterword" highlights something I didn't know. When the French paratroopers who ran the secret prisons and torture chambers left Algeria they went to South and Central America where they trained troops and death squads. And they came to the United States where they helped train U.S. forces as part of the war in Vietnam.

There is, then, a direct line between the "paras" in Algeria and the torturers of Abu Ghraib and other secret prisons. A direct, bloody, disgraceful, evil line.


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