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Death Squadrons

Death Squadrons

"Our war was very efficient. In three years, the subversives were annihilated."- General Ramon Diaz Bessone of Argentina

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, much of Latin America was under the control of brutal military juntas engaged in what they perceived as a life-and-death war against communists. The role of the United States' government in this has been well documented, but until now, France's contribution was more shadowy.

DEATH SQUADRONS: THE FRENCH SCHOOL convincingly reveals French veterans of the wars in Indochina and Algeria provided the inspiration, the training, and some of the intelligence that allowed Latin America's dictators to torture and kill thousands of their own citizens.

Filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin traces the development of the theory of counter-revolutionary warfare, first tested Indochina and in Algiers (where 20,000 civilians died). Some of its foremost practitioners, like French General Paul Aussaresses, freely admit their contributions, even with a hint of pride. Others are surreptitiously captured on a hidden camera, admitting high-level political and military links between the dictators and the French government. Many of those interviewed are now either in custody or under indictment.

Though little documentary footage of these practices exists, the Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo realistically recreated the French interrogation methods in The Battle of Algiers. (The Battle of Algiers was recently shown to American officers confronted with ongoing attacks on their personnel in Iraq, and excerpts from this film illustrate DEATH SQUADRONS).

DEATH SQUADRONS also shows how, during the 1960's, the French were instrumental in training U.S. officers at Fort Bragg on counter-insurgency techniques that were later used by the U.S. military in Vietnam.

DEATH SQUADRONS serves a cautionary note about what can happen when governments and the military are convinced that enemies are everywhere, and that any means necessary can be employed to fight them. It's an important lesson to bear in mind as the war on terror continues.

"A sobering account of French involvement in Latin America's dirty wars [and] chilling reminder of what happens when unaccountable security forces and governments arrogate the right to target presumed enemies with the very terror that they claim to be fighting. DEATH SQUADRONS makes an important contribution to our understanding of the development and dissemination of brutal counterinsurgency tactics in the Americas."- Journal of Latin American Anthropology

"A valuable contribution to the study of state terror. Its intent is to illuminate the lesser-known French role [in Latin America], and in that it succeeds exceptionally well. Robin makes skillful use of rare documentary footage interspersed with her interviews. Highly Recommended for undergraduate and graduate students as well as experts."- The Americas: A Quarterly Journal of Inter-American Cultural History

"A far-reaching exposé of the French influence on the Southern Cone's military regimes of the '70s and '80s. Fastening onto a neglected aspect of the topic, Marie-Monique Robin mines the hidden vein of French culpability, demonstrating in a volley of meticulously detailed research drawn in part from recently declassified intelligence files... Moreover, the film probes the French role in training U.S. armed forces, covetous of the Europeans' superior expertise, on counterinsurgency methods later unleashed in Vietnam (and it hardly needs to be said that the shadow of Abu Ghraib looms largest here). By some sorcery, Robin managed to persuade a number of the progenitors of this terror to sit for interviews... Their forthright testimony is a serpent's kiss - absolutely blood-chilling!"- Senses of Cinema

"Highly Recommended! Examines the French doctrine of counterrevolutionary warfare [and] traces a path from the development and transmission of this doctrine to the United States' Operation Phoenix in Vietnam and the transnational South American Operation Condor, which one person interviewed described as a 'coordinating apparatus that oversees intelligence for all Latin American dictatorships, supported by European terrorists.' Through interviews with those involved - whose recollections ranged from proud to ashamed - one learns about the torture techniques, death squadrons, disappearances, and civilian casualties that resulted.- Educational Media Reviews Online


Main credits

Robin, Marie-Monique (film director)
Robin, Marie-Monique (screenwriter)
Bourdon, William (film director)
Bourdon, William (screenwriter)
Gazio, Françoise (film producer)

Other credits

Photography, Pierre Leherle, Maxime Guillosson; editor, Françoise Boulègue, Raphaëlle Girard; music, Sergio Ortega.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Conflict Resolution
Criminal Justice
French History
History (U.S.)
History (World)
Human Rights
Latin America
Latin American Studies
Political Science
South America
Vietnam Era


Gillo Pontecorvo; Dirty War; war; Operation Condor; French military; military history; South America; Argentina; interrogation; interrogation tactics; torture; Battle of Algiers; Algeria; anti-subversive warfare; US Armed Forces; counter-insurgency technique; Vietnam; Buenos Aires; soldiers; war crime; war; human rights; violence; film; video; documentary; ; "Death Squadrons"; Icarus Films; "Death Squadrons"; Icarus Films

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