Each generation should see “The Battle of Algiers” (1966) and see it over again, as a chilling preview to the Long War. In the film as well as real life, a chart of “terrorist cell leaders” is posted on a French blackboard and, one by one, each is assassinated until there are no more. The Casbah is declared pacified, and the French military forces leave. Two years later, an Algerian uprising in the streets succeeds in liberating Algeria from colonial rule.
The French general in the film, who bears an eerie resemblance to Gen. David Petraeus, engages in an illuminating dialogue with the French liberal media.
JOURNALIST: Excuse me. It seems that out of an excess of caution, my colleagues keep asking you indirect questions. It would be better to call a spade a spade, so let’s talk about torture.
THE GENERAL: The word “torture” isn’t used in our orders. We use “interrogation” as the only valid police method. We could talk for hours to no avail because that is not the problem. The problem is this. The FLN wants to throw us out of Algeria, and we want to stay. Even with slight shades of opinion, you all agree that we must stay. We are neither madmen nor sadists. We are soldiers. Our duty is to win. Therefore, to be precise, it is my turn to ask a question. Should France stay in Algeria? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences.
We are seeing the same movie in real life, played over and over again. Demonizing followed by destruction, again and again. Across the continent, the natives were demonized for scalping, the capture of white women, and alliances with the British army (and for this, denounced as “savages” in the Declaration of Independence.)
In Vietnam, the demons were named the “Vietcong,” meaning Vietnamese communists, and were systemically rounded up, tortured and assassinated in the Phoenix Program. The same methods were employed in Central America not long after.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Phoenix Program was reborn to combat “global insurgency.” A “deck of cards” was produced for Iraq, with 55 insurgent targets in the pack. Lists were obtained from informants. Alleged terrorists and leaders of the opposition were tracked to their homes. Doors were kicked in, blood spilled, the secrets kept. The assassination spree was allegedly so effective that it gave its top perpetrator, Derek Harvey, regular orgasms, according to Bob Woodward in The War Within. All this was under the command of then-Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, described as Special Action Programs, and stamped top secret.
On May 2 of this year, Osama bin Laden was killed in a Navy Seals raid on his home and compound. That killing didn’t deter an attack on a Chinook that left 38 dead, including 30 Americans, among them 22 Navy Seals, nor did the assassination of the Al Qaeda leader stop the September insurgent attacks on the US embassy, NATO headquarters and a CIA station in Kabul.