Did French Soldiers Torture Congolese Citizens?

By: Warner Todd Huston

Swedish military officials are accusing the French army of torturing civilians in Congo during their participation in the EU-led Artemis mission to stop marauding bandit bands plaguing the north-eastern part of the country.

Operation Artemus, the first major EU-led military effort, was supposed to mark a new era in joint European military operations. The short lived mission was active only a few months ending on Sept. 1 of 2003.

Now the Swedish military is accusing the French of torturing those whom they were supposed to be protecting.

According to the Swedish television news magazine Uppdrag Granskning, Swedish soldiers observed their French compatriots as they tortured a Congolese man in civilian clothes for hours, allegedly beating and strangling him. According to the report, the episode didn’t end until the Swedish soldiers went to the French commander.

Now, we can certainly look to France to investigate this incident and, if found to be true, we should expect them to prosecute these soldiers. But, I want to caution Americans from pointing to this with triumphalism.

We have to wonder why it has taken from 2003 to 2007 to report this torture claim? Second and most importantly, we cannot point at the “French” and say that “they” torture. This sort of behavior is not a French military policy and was likely just the actions of single soldiers. Even if a local French commander either encouraged or simply looked the other way while these things were occurring (if they really did) we cannot claim that it was any sort of official policy to the point where we can say “the French torture.” Any more than we can say with factual confidence that the U.S. military had any sort of policies that would have sanctioned the foolishness in Abu Ghraib.

And, going back to the question of why it has taken so long for all this to come out? Let us remember here that France is now being led by one considered an American loving, conservative. Is this an effort to discredit France merely because of her new president? After all, why did the Swedes not bring this up when Jacques Chirac was president but months ago and for almost the entire of the time between 2003 and today, at that?

These are questions that need to be answered as we assess the validity of these claims.

Still, even if true, we must not tar the entire of the French military, government and people with the torture brush. It was illegitimate to claim that the entirety of the US government was said to be torturers because of the actions of folks in the lower ranks that are not responsible for setting US policy. Much as I despise the things France has done to the USA since the 1800 Pseudo War, we must not do the same to France that was done to the US.

There is no proof that the French military are torturers any more than is the US military.

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