Boudjerra Soltani: the Brotherhood by day, water-boarding by night

One must necessarily revise his thesis regarding the role of the MSP in legitimizing governmental authority when its leader, Boudjerra Soltani, was nearly arrested in Switzerland for having personally directed a 2005 torture session in mid-October. Such activity does nobody much good in the way of legitimacy, credibility or religious conviction. Soltani denies that he deliberately fled the country on 16 October, when he was in Geneva ahead of a Muslim conference he was to attend in Fribourg. It is alleged that the Swiss assisted in Soltani’s escape, fearing the fallout from yet another North African incident. The victim is Nouar Abdelmalik, a former soldier in the Algerian army. He now lives in France with refugee status, according to TRIAL (the NGO that facilitated his suit against Soltani). Soltani is the head of the Movement for a Society of Peace, the Algerian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

M. Nouar Abdelmalek joined the Algerian army in 1990. Within the context of the widespread violence causing havoc in Algeria during the nineties, he refused to obey orders to carry out assignments which ran counter to his conscience and was given disciplinary sanctions.

In April 2002,  Mr.  Abdelmalek was arrested at the border between Algeria and Tunisia, whilst attempting to flee his country, fearing for his life. He was held in secret, in Constantine, for 15 days under inhumane conditions and subjected to acts of severe torture by agents of the military police, the DRS  (Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité). He was forced to sign documents the terms of which he was unaware. As a result of the brutal treatment he was subjected to he had to be hospitalised for a month.

In 2005, Mr. Abdelmalek was again arrested. He was accused of plotting against a Minister of State, and most severely tortured for several days by State agents. Mr. Abdelmalek was even beaten within the actual premises of the Bir Mourad Raïs Tribunal, immediately prior to his appearance before a judge. The declarations extracted from him under these conditions were used in the proceedings against him. On being put in prison at El-Harrach on 12 October 2005, he was again subjected to cruel treatment in the prison’s infirmary and also, on 23 October 2005, in a secret detention centre. He was subsequently placed in solitary confinement for seven months.

TRIAL suggests a personal vendetta:

In the framework of his functions at the Ministry of Defense, M ABDELMALEK published a report in 1998 in which he expressly mentioned Mr. SOLTANI’s implication in the recruitment of a young Algerian Islamist sent to Afghanistan. After the report was released, Mr. ABDELMALEK was discharged from his official functions but continued criticizing Mr. SOLTANI in the press.

In June 2005, Mr. ABDELMALEK was arrested on the basis of fallacious charges. Policemen brought him to the brigade of Beni Messous where he suffered torture for several days. In the morning of the 1 July 2005, officials transferred Mr. ABDELMALEK to the Châteauneuf facility, notorious for being Algeria’s main center for torture and arbitrary detention.

[. . .]

On the same day, Mr. SOLTANI, then Minister of State, went to the room where Mr. ABDELMALEK was detained in order to personally direct a torture session which lasted for about 2 hours. During that session, the victim was subjected to waterboarding, to several electric shocks on the stomach, feet and hands, his ankles were twisted as if to break them and a screwdriver was even introduced into a recent wound on his right foot.

With the purpose to make Mr. ABDELMALEK sign fake declarations and blank documents, Mr. SOLTANI openly directed the session, encouraging and inciting the agents to carry out these inhuman acts. Mr. ABDELMALEK was also threatened of not leaving the facility alive.

It does, though, point to another point made earlier: that the leaders of Islamist parties, like those of all parties, are men and nothing more. There are no prophets, sidis or saviors in politics. The Islamist sets in Algeria are as morally crippled as any other political faction in Algeria. If they were not so before they joined the government, they appear to taken rather quickly to the ways of the elite. The MSP has become a truly status quo entity. Some believe steadfastly that men are good — even some politicians — and that institutions are corrupt. If this is the case at all, it is not so with Mr. Soltani and those like him. Mr. Soltani has faced many accusations against his personal morality, though this may be the worst. What is most morbid is that the man will face no important consequences in Algeria, despite being the leader of a major political party.  This is not, after all, a place where the rule of law is generally upheld.

Abdelmalek’s case is one of many filed by Algerians in Europe against Algerian officials involved in torture, arbitrary detention, extra-judicial killings and all other order of human rights violations. None of these, to this blogger’s knowledge, has been successful. The most high profile one was the result of arrogance more than the willingness of European governments to protect uphold human rights principles. Fmr. General Khaled Nezzar brought a libel suit against fmr. Col. Habib Souaida in a Paris court, after Souaida published his famous La Salle Guerre which accused Nezzar of being responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. By the time the trial was finished, Algerians in France began to file suits against him for such offenses causing him to flee back to Algeria. The court ruled against Nezzar. This has been the preferred practice of Algerian elites accused of human rights violations: to sue the victim for libel — and lose. Larbi Belkheir sued an Algerian in France on a similar count (related to the Mecili affair, not the Civil War), and the court ruled in favor of the defendant. An Algerian refugee in France attempted to file suit against Belkheir in 2003, but Belkheir fled the country before he the case could be heard. Another dissident, ex-DRS officer Mohamed Samraoui, was arrested by Spanish authorities following an Algerian request for extradition via Interpol, though he left the country for Germany (where his family lives) not long after. Samraoui defected during the Civil War, authoring his Chronique des annes de sang, which implicated high ranking officials in a variety of criminal activities. There are inconsistencies in both Souaida’s and Samraoui’s books and Soltani has institutional enemies that may be out get him. But it is unlikely that these are merely political charges. The veracity of the 1998 document may, for instance, be of questionable authenticity. However, the torture charges are probably not. Despite the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, there must be no illusions: torture is still practiced in Algeria with near total impunity, like much the rest of the Arab world and North Africa — much of it with the full knowledge and indifference of western governments.

The story came out during an unfortunate autumn. It was quickly eclipsed in the media by football related stories, riots and the rest. Of course the presses friendly to the party and the government have generally ignored the story all together. It was a main story in an issue of Liberte some weeks ago and it has been covered more heavily by El Watan and the always aggressive Le Matin. But not through most of November, and Soltani is unlikely to be held to account if the state or its allies have anything to be said about it.



3 thoughts on “Boudjerra Soltani: the Brotherhood by day, water-boarding by night

  1. Well, it seems like the smear campaign is becoming rather successful after all.

    I think you’d do the story greater justice if you looked behind the scenes of this campaign. So far, the only evidence seems to be Abdelmalik’s word – and the support of an organisation that seems all too eager to gain publicity without properly checking accusations. In the light of events like this, it is easy to understand the people’s scepticism towards foreign human rights organisations. Too many people have tried to use them to further their own agendas. In the end some of these organisations make it rather difficult for human rights initiatives and organisations from inside the country.

    Soltani has invited quite a hostile set of enemies, out of poor political manoeuvring within the Government he was in (many failed initiatives, “Stop the corruption” of a government he was in, poor manoeuvring vis-à-vis the recent Gaza war, etc…), as well as his poor leadership of the MSP, his abrasiveness and his inability and inflexibility in containing the recent MSP internal strife.

    Just FYI, Soltani cannot “have fled” Switzerland since he was in no way obliged to attend to the court, and local papers have repeatedly mentioned that he left normally contradicting the story of TRIAL et al. I’m not out to defend the guy, but some stories are just begging for scepticism. There is just a mountain of controversy a over the words of Mr Abdelmalek, a guy who’s never been shy of controversy.

    • Houwari:
      Thanks for commenting again.

      True about the fleeing element to the story. I ought to have made that more explicit here. (There are other things that should have been fixed before this went up, but it went up quickly because of holiday crises on my end!)

      I agree the story needs more skepticism, and there’ll need to be more investigative work on it and a harder look at Abdelmalek’s story. Behind the scenes, I have several views of what might be pushing Abdelmalek’s agenda and the affair over all, but I can’t verify those any more than I can Abdelmalek’s, which are, as you note, based on his word alone. There are no witnesses that have come forward.

      That’s for another post, though. Going through his accusations (and you see them even in Abdelmalek’s personal narrative about the episode) in a critical way will help to put it in better context. I’ve been taking notes from his website to see try to do this, but I am not posting on that until I’m finished with it. The other end of it is the tit-for-tat you see with Soltani, within the party and the government. It goes without saying that Soltani having participated in torture is somewhat sensational.

      Regarding external human rights organizations: I fully agree with you that at times many of them, as a result of their good intentions, stupidity or manipulation, do more harm than good in a place like Algeria.

      With regard to Soltani’s enemies, who are numerous. Again, I agree. I’ve noted that here and in other posts (everybody remembers the assault charges, for instance; also note that I do link to the Rachad forum which offers a different view of the affair, that alleges the presidential alliance and DRS’s involvement to discredit the MSP for a cabinet reshuffle). I’ve put up one side and I’m trying to get the other one up as reasonably as possible. And you’ll notice I have my own disposition in the post, but I don’t commit to one view until I’ve finished with the subject totally. Like I said above, I’m putting together a tit-for-tat list to see how these accusations fit into the bigger picture. So don’t feel like I’m looking to smear Soltani or anybody else (I don’t think anybody in Algerian politics needs my help to do that). You can expect more posts on this, more informative than this one (which simply states the accusations because I haven’t had the time to put the whole thing in the format I’d like) and more critical.

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