The role of the French police in the Algerian war has not attracted much public attention until recently. Throughout the War, it is true, French intellectuals have protested against police torture and brutality in dealing with Moslem nationalists; two years ago, Sartre, Beauvoir and one hundred nineteen other writers, teachers and professional people sent a celebrated letter to de Gaulle. And an expose of actual police torture techniques, Le Gangrene, shocked the public. The efforts of a few French and Algerian lawyers to defend Moslems against charges "confessed" to under torture have also attracted support.
As a result, the French have not only actively demonstrated against the police (two weeks ago, protesting the murders of eight people in a melee following an anti-OAS meeting), but have begun to suspect the police as much as the Army of disloyalty.
The OAS's campaign of violence has been fostered by information gotten through the police, and by a consistent policy of police non-intervention in their affairs. In the past, the OAS has been able to learn classified addresses, motor routes, and meeting places of leftist and nationalist groups from the police in both Paris and Algiers. In their present intensified attempt to prevent a cease-fire agreement, they are counting on a continuation of police spinelessness and collusion to help implement their policy.
As the cease-fire negotiations near an end, and the nominal triumph of the Gaullist independence policy grows more likely, the dangers represented by a slack or disloyal police force are greater than ever. For the OAS's intention is no longer to seize power by a putsch, such as was attempted by Gens. Challe and Salan. It is trying, quite simply, to destroy civilian power, to provoke an all out civil war by intolerable violence. In effect, the OAS has embraced anarchy as its goal. Any continuing failure of the police to do its job--to administer the policies dictated by the government in Paris--will make the OAS's success much more likely.
Should a cease-fire agrement be arrived at, F.L.N. and French troops will be called on to enforce it. But in the meantime, the police in Algeria have the responsibility for keeping the OAS in check. Their past performance may indicate that the OAS effectively controls them; if this is the case, the government's cause may be hopeless.
But even if, as is more likely, the police failure reflects only a breakdown in the system of administration of policy, the situation is still grave. For such an administrative failure is not corrected over night; and de Gaulle may find that the basic machinery necessary for the preservation of his Grand Design has been too long neglected to work at this crucial time.
Police brutality, which Parisians have just gotten around to protesting, is by now beside the point. If one re-reads the Sarte Beauvoir manifesto, it sounds curiously out of date. The question now is whether the police can rally from their torpor long enough to prevent chaos. (Ironically, at the same time that police impotence has made things easier for the OAS, the Organization's popular support is rumored to be falling off. It is partly for this reason that the hope of a future putsch has been abandoned, and the campaign of allout violence adopted.)
The behavoir of the police throughout the war was not wholly surprising: the police of most countries are expected to have an anti-Left bias. But it is only rarely that such a bias can mean the death of a crucial government policy. The French, who for thirty years have explored all the possible aberrations of government, now find themselves in this last unlikely situation.