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Old 09-28-2006, 08:27 PM
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Exclamation 50 years on, Algiers bomber sees US "error" in Iraq

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Fifty years ago a young blonde woman hid a bomb in Algiers' fashionable Milk Bar cafe where French colonial youths were relaxing after a day at the beach.

The woman, Zohra Drif, knew there would be victims as she left, unnoticed thanks to her European looks, to take refuge in the Casbah old quarter minutes before the early evening blast.
What she could not have known was that her actions and those of her colleagues in the 1954-62 independence war, instead of fading into history, are the subject of unprecedented scrutiny among counter-terror specialists around the world.
The renewed interest is thanks to a decision by the U.S. military in 2003 to screen the classic 1965 film about the war, The Battle of Algiers, for officers preparing for duty in Iraq.
"How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas," read a flyer for the film, a dramatized reconstruction of episodes in one of the world's bloodiest post-colonial wars.
If the idea was to understand why people rebel against occupation, Drif now says, the Pentagon's move was a failure.


MONUMENTAL MISTAKE
"If they had learned the lesson of the Battle of Algiers, well, there would have been peace in Iraq a long time ago," Drif, now known as Drif Bitat, aged 70, told Reuters.
"If the Pentagon studied this film to understand the mentality and action of what they call terrorists ... I'd say there has been a monumental error."
Her September 30, 1956 blast, together with another device set off nearby, killed three people and wounded 60, including children. Several people lost limbs sliced off by flying glass.
The attack, a reprisal for a big French bombing that killed dozens in the Casbah weeks earlier, had a momentous effect on the war, intensifying a spiral of violence and boosting the popularity of the pro-independence National Liberation Front.
Algeria, invaded by France in 1830 and in 1956 a colony with more than one million French settlers, won independence in 1962 after a war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives in one of history's bitterest liberation struggles.
Unlike other former French colonial possessions in North Africa, Algeria was technically an overseas department of metropolitan France and to many French people its independence represented a loss of part of their country.
Algerians take the lesson of the film to be that colonial repression, violence and torture, while militarily effective in the short-run, only deepen nationalist sentiment and produce an unconquerable urge toward freedom among the colonized.
Drif Bitat says the Americans seem unaware of that message because their forces have caused the deaths of thousands of civilians in Iraq and abused prisoners under their control, echoing French behavior in Algeria.
The United States says its forces have been fighting militants in a Sunni insurgency in Iraq and that U.S. soldiers who abused Iraqi prisoners have been brought to account.
"How do you want them to learn a lesson from the Battle of Algiers when the core of the Battle of Algiers is that 'we are at home, attacked by the French'. And that is the case with the Americans (attacking Iraqis in Iraq)," Drif Bitat said.

"We were not terrorists ... We had the support of the bulk of the population. That was our strength."


LESSONS
"Not only were they (Americans) unable to learn lessons from the chain of events (shown in the film), but also they wanted to put it at their service. They wanted to understand it according to what they were looking for."
"They (the Americans) did not reclassify it (the film) as part of reality, because they wanted to describe us as terrorists, even though they did not say that publicly."
The United States has faced international criticism for its indefinite detention of detainees at a naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and for physical abuse and sexual humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
The Bush administration, however, says it treats prisoners humanely. The Pentagon acknowledged earlier this month that all detainees held by the U.S. military are covered by an article of the Geneva Conventions that bars inhumane treatment.
Drif Bitat, a retired lawyer, is a longtime senior member of the senate and is close to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The far right in France calls her a terrorist for her actions in 1956. Captured soon afterwards, she was sentenced to death and spent five years in French prisons.
The French far right says then President Charles de Gaulle should never have pardoned her and freed her at independence.
But Drif Bitat remains unrepentant, arguing that there is a difference between armed liberation struggles and terrorist movements. She points to her own experience as an example.
In 1956 she was a 20-year-old first year law student at Algiers University. She says she was moved to action by French violence. "Political methods had reached their limits and I was convinced that effectiveness lay in armed action. I made that choice ... Consequently, planting a bomb seemed to be to be the minimum I should do. The problem was to do it successfully."
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Old 09-28-2006, 08:28 PM
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A scene from Gillo Pontecorvo's 'The Battle of Algiers' courtesy of Rialto Pictures. (Rialto Pictures/Photofest/Handout/Reuters)
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