Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Say "Strappado": New Work on Torture


Anthony Grafton has an article in The New Republic about what he learned about torture from studying the Renaissance. He looks at transcripts from trials against Jews (accused of using human blood to make mazo) and witches and concludes that torture is the most ineffective way to gather information. He concludes:

"Living mostly in the Renaissance, I have learned something that matters from my colleagues. Torture does not obtain truth. Applied with leading questions, it can make most ordinary people--as it would certainly make me--say anything their examiners want, if they can only work out what that is. Applied to the extraordinarily defiant, it may not work at all. In either case, it is not an instrument that a decent society has any business applying. Anyone who claims otherwise abandons the Enlightenment ideals that brought our country into being--and stands with the torturers of Trent against the Jews who did their best to speak the truth".

Most chilling is the descriptions he has of the methods used by the inquisitors, particularly the strappado. As horrific as the practice sounds, what is more awful is the fact that the method is still used today. It has alledgedly been used by Israeli forces and developed into what is called the "Palestinian hanging" method. It has also been used by U.S. forces in Iraq (Along with a whole host of other techniques). In 2003, an Iraqi prisoner in Abu Ghraib died as a result of having his hands handcuffed behind his back and then hanged.

Regulars to Engage will remember Darius Rejali's interview about the ethics of torture. His new book Torture and Democracy is finally out. You can pre order it with a big discount right now at Amazon.com.

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4 Comments:

At 8:49 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even Hobbes (17th Century) figured out that torture would not yield accurate information: "The same is also true, of the accusation of those, by whose condemnation a man falls into misery... For the testimony of such an accuser, if it be not willingly given, is presumed to be corrupted by nature; and therefore not to be received... (Leviathan). Lani

 
At 4:57 PM , Anonymous lilia said...

Rejali's book, causes me to think about a link the U.S. historian Edmund Morgan made, in the 1970s, about liberty and slavery (an institution imbued with legal torture and punishment): “That two seemingly contradictory developments were taking place simultaneously over along period…is a central paradox of American history. For the historian, it poses a challenge to probe the connection: to explain how a people could have developed the dedication to human liberty and dignity exhibited by the leaders of the American Revolution and at the same time have developed and maintained a system of labor that denied human liberty and dignity every hour of day." That legacy, I think, has infected many aspects of U.S. society and we have been responsible for expanding it globally. For example, through the “School of the Americas,” the U.S. military was complicit in teaching their "lesser" brothers and sisters of Latin America a means of interrogation and persuasion that fueled dirty wars, disappearances, murders,all in the name of liberty and democracy.

 
At 12:22 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Thanks, Lani, for the mention of Hobbes. Though I think the current administration probably would feel the same as Hobbes about the absolute legal immunity of the sovereign.

 
At 12:30 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Lilia: Absolutely. I haven't read Darius's book yet, but he does want to show that torture has been related to the development of democracy in a very intimate way. You bring up two very important examples.

 

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