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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’assassinat de Maurice Audin, un crime d’État

by Alain Ruscio, historian

The Assassination of Maurice Audin, a Crime d’État

Translated Friday 16 June 2017, by Henry Crapo

Maurice Audin, member of the Algerian Communist Party (PCA) since 1950 --- he was 18 years of age at the time --- was arrested by parachutists of the 1st RCP on Tuesday 11 June 1957. He was assassinated, most likely on 21 June, after having been horribly tortured.

Maurice Audin in the documentary by François Demerliac, La Disparition. Chaya Films et Virtuel/Public Sénat

The official version is that the young man had escaped while being transferred. But, already in 1957, and even more so today, nobody, except the military and some political leaders, seriously support that hypothesis.

During the battle of Algiers, the French authorities considered that the clandestine section of the PCA furnished decisive aid to those posing bombs, and more generally, to the FLN (Front de Libération national). Maurice Audin did not occupy a high position in the organigram of the party. Little known as a militant, he did not have to plunge into clandestinity, unlike many of his comrades, and even kept his position as assistant in Mathematics at the Faculty of Algiers. He was preparing to defend his thesis, thus to become one of the youngest Doctors of Science in France.

The prisoner was transported to El Biar, There, the torture began ...

The gears were starting to move on 11 June, 1957. A militant cracks under torture and drops Audin’s name. The paratroopers rush to his residence and proceed to arrest him in the presence of his wife and children. The prisoner is transported to El Biar, in a “reserved” building. There, the torture begins, immediately entering the “strong mode”. We know that Henri Alleg was arrested at the home of Audin the following day, 12 June. In the evening, he is brought face to face with his friend and comrade: “It’s hard, Henri”, utters the young man.

Some days later, on the 21st, the drama reaches its point of no return. The physical resistance of Maurice Audin, and his courage, should have gained him the respect of his captors. But it was the contrary that took place. The torturers are exasperated and, finally, kill their prisoner.

We can imagine that Massu must have been disturbed, but not by a feeling of humanity, when he learned of the death of Audin. Surely, every day, Algerians were victims of the same sort of treatment. But the execution of a young university student, father of a family, not guilty of any violent activity, risked making a noise in France. He had to find an explanation. It is at this moment that is imagined, in concertation with political leaders in Algiers and in Paris, the version of an “attempted escape”. On 1 July, this becomes the official version — and it remains so even today. Very quickly, doubts appear, and a cascade of questions are posed. How was a skinny intellectual, mathematician, to escape those burly paratroopers? How would someone who had been tortured, who was exhausted, barely able to stand, outrun his jailers, who were accustomed to combat? And if, by some miracle, he had been able to do this, why had he not made contact, however discretely, with his close friends, family, or his comrades? If he was slaughtered, where is his body? Wasn’t the refusal of the military to show his body an implicit acknowledgement that Audin had been tortured?

Vidal-Naquet offers a reconstitution of the murder and shows the impossibility of escape

The role of Josette Audin is central to the initiation of public interest in the affair. She gets involved as soon as she is able to make contact with the outside world. She demands interviews with the authorities of the state, and files a complaint. On 13 August, Le Monde pubishes an accusing letter written by her. In early September, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, a historian with known anti-colonialist sentiments, in contact with Josette Audin, proposes the creation of a national committee, officially founded in November, including Laurent Schwartz, Jean Dresch, Henri-Irénée Marrou, Madeleine Rebérioux, and others.

In May 1958, there appeared the work of Vidal-Naquet, “l’Affaire Audin”, which provides a reconstruction of the murder, and meticulously proves the impossibility of “escape”. No refutation, and certainly no demand that the author be charged, ever appeared, which has the value of a confession. For a long time, and based on this inquiry, it was the lieutenant in charge of torture, Charbonnier, who was believed guilty of the assassination. In 2012, Nathalie Funès, a reporter for the Nouvel Observateur, discovered a document in which another name is advanced, the sergeant Garcet. This hypothesis was confirmed by the sordid general Aussaresses, at the end of his life.

The identity of the assassin is not a matter of secondary importance. But it is effaced by this crushing reality: an innocent person was killed by a French officer who was protected by his superiors, and in turn by the higest political figures of the moment. That is what is called a “crime d’état”.

Who killed Maurice Audin

On 25 September 1957, in the National Assembly, the deputies speak about l’affaire. Jacques Duclos denounces: “I demand that they tell us under what conditions, and by whom, Maurice Audin was assassinated”. To which the socialist minister Robert Lacoste replies: “You say Mister Audin was assassinated. What do you know about it? For you, Mister Duclos, it is enough for you to say to the tribune of this assembly that someone killed him, that someone assassinated him, without bringing us any proof, and we have to bear the burden for acts that we have not committed.” When pressed by the communist deputies, he repeats, “Where is Mister Audin?” Then lashes out: “Who killed Maurice Audin? It is you who are the assassins! You have killed women and children in Algiers!” The era was like that.

Alain Ruscio adds: We are presently undertaking a more complete study of the role of the PCF and of the PCA in the war in Algeria. All documents from that era concerning the basic organizations (cells of the PCF, circles of the JC, notes taken during meetings, etc.) can be useful. Thanks to readers who will please address the documents in their possession to the address: ruscioalain@gmail.com.

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