Writes Roger Ebert: Gillo Pontecorvo's "The Battle of Algiers," filmed in 1965, released in late 1967, is the crucial film about this new kind of warfare. It involves the proving-ground of the emerging tactics in Algeria from 1954 to 1962, as France tried and failed to contain a nationalist uprising. Methods that were successful in Algeria would be adapted by Castro and Guevara in Cuba, by the Viet Cong, the Palestinians, the IRA and South African militants, and are currently being employed in Iraq. One conventional response has been the capture, interrogation and sometimes torture of the fighters, who are pressured to betray the names and plans of their co-conspirators.
This theory is described by a French military commander in "The Battle of Algiers": Terrorist groups are like tapeworms -- they keep reviving unless you destroy the head. That's not easy, because the groups are broken up into cells so that no member knows the names of more than a few others. As a consequence, neither side can really know how many (or how few) insurgents are involved.
"The Battle of Algiers" is "a training film for urban guerrillas," Jimmy Breslin declared on TV in 1968. Certainly it was shown by the Black Panthers and the IRA to their members, and in September 2003 the New York Times reported that the movie was being shown in the Pentagon to military and civilian experts. Times reporter Michael Kaufman wrote that Pentagon audiences were "urged to consider and discuss the implicit issues at the core of the film -- the problematic but alluring efficacy of brutal and repressive means in fighting clandestine terrorists in places like Algeria and Iraq." In short, the possibilities of torture.
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