The Phenomenon of Torture
Readings and Commentary
Publication Year: 2011
Torture is the most widespread human rights crime in the modern world, practiced in more than one hundred countries, including the United States. How could something so brutal, almost unthinkable, be so prevalent? The Phenomenon of Torture: Readings and Commentary is designed to answer that question and many others. Beginning with a sweeping view of torture in Western history, the book examines questions such as these: Can anyone be turned into a torturer? What exactly is the psychological relationship between a torturer and his victim? Are certain societies more prone to use torture? Are there any circumstances under which torture is justified—to procure critical information in order to save innocent lives, for example? How can torture be stopped or at least its incidence be reduced?
Edited and with an introduction by the former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, The Phenomenon of Torture draws on the writings of torture victims themselves, such as the Argentinian journalist Jacobo Timerman, as well as leading scholars like Elaine Scarry, author of The Body in Pain. It includes classical works by Voltaire, Jeremy Bentham, Hannah Arendt, and Stanley Milgram, as well as recent works by historian Adam Hochschild and psychotherapist Joan Golston. And it addresses new developments in efforts to combat torture, such as the designation of rape as a war crime and the use of the doctrine of universal jurisdiction to prosecute perpetrators. Designed for the student and scholar alike, it is, in sum, an anthology of the best and most insightful writing about this most curious and common form of abuse. Juan E. Méndez, Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide and himself a victim of torture, provides a foreword.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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Of all human rights violations, torture is the most universally condemned and repudiated. The prohibition on torture is so widely shared across cultures and ideologies that there is little room for disagreement about the fact that physical and psychological abuse, when committed in a widespread or systematic manner, ...
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By definition torturers are cruel. But the corpses proved that they could also be clever. The Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, reported Amnesty International in 1994, were strapping live prisoners to newly dead corpses and leaving them, eye to eye, to rot together in the sun. ...
Chapter I. Torture in Western History
Torture has been around for a long time. The readings in this chapter are not meant to constitute a definitive taxonomy of the practice by any means. (For one thing, our focus is limited to Western history, though torture has been employed in virtually all cultures.) ...
Reading 1. Page DuBois, Torture and Truth
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The ancient Greeks were quite discriminating when it came to who could be tortured. Free citizens were spared the ordeal while slaves (and sometimes foreigners) were ready candidates. That in and of itself is not surprising. Torture has often been reserved for the least powerful and the Other. ...
Reading 2. The Torture of Jesus
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Few acts of torture have had as far-ranging an effect on human history as those committed against Jesus of Nazareth. For traditional Christians, of course, it is Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection that are the most important features of the story. ...
Reading 3. John H. Langbein, Torture and the Law of Proof
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An enormous change took place in Europe during the twelfth century with regard to how offenses—what today we would call"crimes"—were resolved. No longer was it sufficient to decide fault in a conflict based upon the reputation and honor of the parties involved or the credibility of oaths they might swear. ...
Reading 4. Edward Peters, Torture
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The use of torture was not limited of course to investigation of civil crimes. As Edward Peters explains in this brief passage from his definitive history of torture, quaestio was a popular means to uncover heretical religious views as well. Inquisition courts deriving their authority from the pope operated in Europe from the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries. ...
Reading 5. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
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If confession extracted by torture is the principal means of resolving guilt or innocence, two questions present themselves. What if the person being tortured is innocent? And what if a guilty person is made of stern enough stuff to resist the torment? Michel Foucault explored these questions in this passage from his Discipline and Punish. ...
Reading 6. Cesare Beccaria, "An Essay on Crimes and Punishments"
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A cruelty consecrated among most nations by custom is the torture of the accused during his trial, on the pretext of compelling him to confess his crime, of clearing up contradictions in his statements, of discovering his accomplices, of purging him in some metaphysical and incomprehensible way from infamy, ...
Reading 7. Voltaire, "On Torture and Capital Punishment"
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Although there are a few articles of jurisprudence in these honest alphabetical reflections, a word must be said concerning torture, otherwise, called the question. It is a strange manner of questioning men. It was not invented, however, out of idle curiosity; there is every likelihood that this part of our legislation owes its origin to a highway robber. ...
Reading 8. Malcolm D. Evans and Rod Morgan, Preventing Torture
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Despite the legal prohibitions on torture virtually everywhere in the world, the phenomenon is hardly unknown today, as many of the readings in other chapters of this book make clear. Moreover, much contemporary torture lacks even the rationalization provided in ancient and medieval times: that it was a means to a greater end, ...
Chapter II. Being Tortured
Fortunately the vast majority of us will never experience torture firsthand. We can imagine something of what it is like from the occasions we have each endured pain—that is the starting point of the moral imagination—but there is far more to torture than the experience of pain. ...
Reading 1. Eric Lomax, The Railway Man
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The most common form of torture is the straightforward beating. If a victim is lucky, the torturer will use his fists. But more frequently he employs some instrument. In the case Eric Lomax describes (and experienced) below, it is pick-helves, the wooden handles of pick-axes. Lomax was a British Signals Officer in World War II ...
Reading 2. Molefe Pheto, And Night Fell
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We expect war to be brutal, despite all the attempts to civilize it through treaties and conventions. But much torture is inflicted in civilian political contexts as well. The South African system of apartheid (1948–early 1990s), for example, under which the races were separated and the black majority subjected to severe social, economic, and political repression, ...
Reading 3. Statement by Abu Ghraib detainee
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The photographs of torture and mistreatment of prisoners by American guards and interrogators at the Abu Ghraib detention center in Iraq that were revealed to the public in the spring of 2004 managed to capture far more attention than all the written descriptions of those misdeeds ever could. ...
Reading 4. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
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Some of the most effective torture is psychological, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn attests in The Gulag Archipelago, his classic 1974 treatise on Soviet forced labor camps. He himself had been imprisoned from 1945 to 1953. ...
Reading 5. Lawrence Weschler, A Miracle, a Universe
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When we think of torture, we usually first think of physical agony. But the manipulation of the mind and spirit can be just as debilitating, as Lawrence Weschler describes in this passage from his classic study of torture in South America, A Miracle, a Universe ...
Reading 6. Pericles Korovessis, The Method
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The army seized power in Greece in 1967 and established an authoritarian state in which torture and intimidation were commonplace. Pericles Korovessis, a young actor and political activist, was imprisoned and tortured in Athens. In this passage from his book, The Method, he both deconstructs the cynicism of the regime, ...
Reading 7. Jean Améry, "Torture"
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Jean Améry was a member of the Belgian resistance during the Second World War. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, he was imprisoned at Fort Breedonk and tortured, though, as he modestly put it, "What was inflicted on me ... was by far not the worst form of torture." But it was bad enough and certainly bad enough to have inspired these brilliant observations ...
Reading 8. Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will
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Women have of course been subjected to all the forms of torture heretofore described. But one of the most common is rape and sexual assault. In the course of wars, in particular, such torture is rampant. Susan Brown miller's classic Against Our Will contains a powerful passage describing the rapes of hundreds of thousands of Bengali women by Pakistani soldiers ...
Reading 9. Amnesty International, Report Uzbekistan
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One of the populations most vulnerable to torture are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Given that torture and discrimination go hand in hand and that the LGBT community often lacks significant political power, in part because in many areas of the world it is still dangerous not to remain closeted, this is not surprising. ...
Reading 10. Antonia García, in Tomasa Cuevas, Prison of Women
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Some people, remarkably enough, can withstand even the most excruciating torture and not talk. One of those was Antonia Garda, an outspoken opponent of Spain's Fascist dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975) and his Falange Party. Garda describes in this passage from Tomasa Cuevas, Prison of Women, why, despite recurrent torture with electric currents ...
Chapter III. Who Are the Torturers?
What does it take to "make" a torturer? Are all of us susceptible, under the right circumstances, to the lure of cruelty? Or are torturers somehow a breed apart, "monsters," utterly beyond human comprehension, much less empathy? Given how widespread torture has been throughout human history and how common it still is today, ...
Reading 1. Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost
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In this passage from his stunning book, King Leopold's Ghost, the story of Belgium's exploitation of the Congo and its natural resources, Adam Hochschild foreshadows a host of issues that we address in this book. He introduces us to still one more form of torture (the chicotte), ...
Reading 2. Keith Atkinson, "The Torturer's Tale"
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Among those who took part in the killing he is remembered as the man who refused to die. He was not an old man, perhaps 50, but they thought of him as old because he had that simplicity of soul so often associated with age. He was a peasant, and he had a devout belief in the goodness of man. ...
Reading 3. Stanley Milgram, "The Perils of Obedience"
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Unless we assume that torturers are born, not made, they must be responding, as all of us do on some level, to the influence of somebody else. They must have in some measure given up their autonomy to the authority of another. Few social science experiments have gained as much renown or been as widely quoted or considered as controversial12 ...
Reading 4. Mika Haritos-Fatouros, "The Official Torturer"
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Mika Haritos-Fatouros, professor of psychology at the University of Thessaloniki in Greece, interviewed sixteen ex-military policemen who had served during the military dictatorship in Greece (1967-74) and had been trained to administer torture. Expanding on Stanley Milgram's findings in this passage from an article in Journal of Applied Psychology, ...
Reading 5. Joan C. Golston, "Ritual Abuse"
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When she was a graduate student in psychology, a friend of mine, now a distinguished clinician and professor of psychology, speculated that if she reproduced the Milgram experiments (see Reading 3 in this chapter) but negatively reinforced the subjects who administered shocks by shocking them in return, ...
Reading 6. A.J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors
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Regardless of his original motivation, a torturer can hardly be effective without the development of skills. Much torture is crudely administered, but sometimes its practitioners have been keenly trained. In this telling passage from his book Hidden Terrors, a treatment of American foreign policy in Brazil and Uruguay in the 1960s and early 1970s, ...
Reading 7. Jon Drolshagen, The Winter Soldier Investigation
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Training in hand, a torturer then requires direction or at least "permission" from a superior to put that training to use. If they thought they would be admonished or disciplined for their actions, few torturers would take the risk. In an atmosphere of impunity, however, almost anything goes. ...
Reading 8. Jean Améry, "Torture"
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Predisposition, training, opportunity, and encouragement-all are required to make a successful torturer. But what is the reward from the act itself? If its purveyors found their jobs unsatisfying, presumably they would be more inclined to abandon them. In this brief but eloquent passage from the chapter "Torture," in his At the Mind's Limits, ...
Reading 9. Adam Hochschild, "The Torturers' Notebooks"
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Do torturers feel guilt? Some claim (after the fact) that they did. But for many, being a productive torturer is something to be proud of, at least within certain closed circles. Adam Hochschild explains this phenomenon in this passage drawn from a May 24, 1999, op ed in the New York Times entitled ''The Torturers' Notebooks." ...
Reading 10. Paul Aussaresses, The Battle of the Casbah
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Ambivalence may not be a feeling torturers readily acknowledge, but even the most hardened of them occasionally allow its echo to be heard behind their bombast. General Paul Aussaresses has been a prominent defender of the use of torture in the French-Algerian War. A French army intelligence officer in charge of the 11th Shock Battalion, ...
Reading 11. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
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Little has been written about the negative impact of torture upon the one doing the torturing. This short case history from Frantz Fanon's influential book The Wretched of the Earth hints at the toll it can take. It is remarkable that Fanon (1925-61) could write so empathetically about a police officer responsible for the torture of partisans of the Front de Libèration Nationale (FLN), ...
Reading 12. Ronald Crelinsten, "In Their Own Words"
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So how do the torturers themselves explain who they have become and what it is like to live as they do? It is not easy to find people who have committed these kinds of crimes and then are willing to talk about them, but Ronald Crelinsten gathered testimony from a variety of sources and distilled a set of insights into a world few of us will ever inhabit. ...
Reading 1. CIA, Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual
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It should come as little surprise that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has employed torture over the years to achieve its ends. In 1983 the agency put some of those techniques down on paper in the form of a Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual. That manual, including its section on "Coercive Techniques," ...
Reading 2. Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty
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Even before his arrest, Volodin 1 knew there was much to fear. But fear has so many layers, level upon level from the conceptual to the physical; as knowing is so many kinds of knowing, as contemplation differs from experience. The mind may discern at a distance; the bowels react in proximity. ...
Reading 3. Jacobo Timerman, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number
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I am in the guard's bedroom off the first passageway, tied to the bed after the beating given me the day I was brought from police headquarters in Buenos Aires. All the cells are occupied, and I am being detained either because no clear instructions regarding my disposition have been received or they've been delayed. ...
Reading 4. Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain
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The first of the three steps is the infliction of great physical pain on a human being. Although this is the most heinous part of the process, it alone would never accomplish the torturer's goal. One aspect of great pain—as acknowledged by those who have suffered it in diverse political and private contexts, ...
Reading 5. David Sussman, "What's Wrong with Torture"
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Torture fails to respect the dignity of its victim as a rationally selfgoverning agent. What is distinct about torture, however, is that it does not just traduce10 the value such dignity represents by treating its subject as a mere means.11 Rather torture, even in the "best" case, involves a deliberate perversion of that very value, ...
Reading 6. Rhonda Copelon, "Intimate Terror"
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Having read the Scarry and Sussman pieces (Readings 4 and 5), it may now be easier to understand why the word "torture" need not be limited to acts committed by or in the name of public authorities or in contexts that are traditionally understood to be "political." ...
Chapter V. The Social Context of Torture
Much of what we have said to this point has focused on individuals or groups of individuals—victims of torture or perpetrators of it. But, as we saw in the chapter on the history of torture in the West, the practice is often embedded in a larger social understanding of truth, for example, that slaves, ...
Reading 1. Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Torture
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This first brief reading, from Pierre Vidai-Naquet's book, Torture: Cancer of Democracy, drawing on the case of Algeria, outlines three key factors that are often present when a governing power resorts to torture. We will see echoes of all three in several of the readings that follow. ...
Reading 2. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
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"The essential feature of the practice of torture," says Vidai-Naquet, "is that one man or one class of society claims absolute power over another." In her renowned study, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt elaborated on that notion of total power. Though her principal focus was on the death camps of Nazi Germany, ...
Reading 3. Kanan Makiya, Republic of Fear
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Kanan Makiya's description of how torture did the bidding of Saddam Hussein in Iraq prior to the American occupation in 2003 builds on Arendt's observations about power and describes the role cruelty plays in the creation of a "new society." This passage comes from Makiya's Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, first published in 1989. ...
Reading 4. Ervin Staub, ''The Psychology and Culture of Torture and Torturers"
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Ervin Staub is one of the few social scientists to try to identify the "social indicators" of genocide. By comparing conditions in four societies-Nazi Germany, Turkey during the years of the Armenian massacre/genocide, Argentina in the period of the "Dirty War," and Pol Pot's Cambodia-in which genocide or mass killings took place, ...
Reading 5. Ronald Crelinsten, "How to Make a Torturer"
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Torture is not confined to authoritarian states, by any means, as the revelations about U.S. practices at Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay so well attest. In this essay from Index on Censorship, Ronald Crelinsten identifies the political and social characteristics of polities, be they democratic or not, that make them more likely to indulge in torture. ...
Reading 6. John Conroy, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People
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John Conroy, one of the leading chroniclers of torture, believes that democracies, in contrast to authoritarian regimes, have their own special ways of coping with accusations of torture. Here, from Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, he outlines nine stages of response. ...
Chapter VI. The Ethics of Torture
At first blush it may be hard to imagine that there could be any serious philosophical debate about torture. Certainly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is unequivocal: "No one," says Article 5, "shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Period. ...
Reading 1. Jeremy Bentham, "Of Torture"
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Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was the father of utilitarianism, the philosophical position that the good is that which fosters "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," as it is often popularly put. Given that premise, it is not difficult to see why Bentham might have been amenable to torture under some circumstances, ...
Reading 2. Michael Levin, "The Case for Torture"
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In the brief essay "The Case for Torture," which appeared in Newsweek in 1982, philosopher Michael Levin put the case in stark and simple terms, anticipating by almost twenty years the recent debate about the torture of terrorists. Notice that, like Bentham in the previous reading, Levin compares torture favorably to certain forms of punishment ...
Reading 3. Richard Bernstein, "Kidnapping Has Germans Debating Police Torture"
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Richard Bernstein's New York Times article "Kidnapping Has Germans Debating Police Torture" describes a real-life case from 2002 in which German police threatened to torture a kidnapper if he failed to disclose the whereabouts of his victim, an eleven-year-old boy. The threat alone got the criminal to talk. ...
Reading 4. Alan Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works
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Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard Law School, is one of the nation's top civil libertarians. But in recent years he has gained renown for advocating a process for the authorization of torture in certain circumstances. Torture is inevitable, Dershowitz contends, but "torture warrants," which would need to be obtained from a court, can help control its use and hold those who employ it accountable. ...
Reading 5. Henry Shue, "Torture"
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The arguments against ticking bomb torture fall broadly into two categories: the argument, on the one hand, that torture violates one or more sets of moral precepts and the pragmatic contention, on the other, that, regardless of its morality, torture is ineffective and damaging to the interests of those who engage in or condone it. ...
Reading 6. Sherwood F. Moran, "Suggestions for Japanese Interpreters"
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In a longer version of the essay excerpted in Reading 5, Henry Shue postulates a situation in which "a fanatic, perfectly willing to die rather than collaborate in the thwarting of his own [ticking bomb] scheme has set a hidden nuclear device to explode in the heart of Paris." If, indeed, said Shue, in such a situation there was "no way to evacuate the innocent people ...
Reading 7. Darius M. Rejali, "Does Torture Work?"
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Algeria during the 1950s is often cited as an example of torture having been effective in thwarting terrorists. Bruce Hoffman, writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 2002, described it as underscoring "how the intelligence requirements of counter-terrorism can suddenly take precedence over democratic ideals." ...
Reading 8. William Schulz, Tainted Legacy
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Whether or not torture is an effective method through which to gain access to information, the argument for torture premised upon the "ticking bomb" scenario stands or falls upon the plausibility of the hypothetical situation. If the "ticking bomb" argument is based upon no more than an abstract calculation, unrelated to real life, then it loses much of its persuasive power. ...
Reading 9. Landau Commission Report
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Basic differences exist between the essence of a police interrogation of an ordinary criminal, on the one hand, and an interrogation carried out by the GSS or persons suspected of hostile terrorist activity (HTA) or subversive political activity, on the other. The police investigation is aimed at collecting evidence against individuals within the society, ...
Reading 10. Supreme Court of lsrael Judgment
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An interrogation, by its very nature, places the suspect in a difficult position. 'The criminal's interrogation;" wrote Justice Vitkon over twenty years ago, "is not a negotiation process between two open and fair vendors, conducting their business on the basis of maximum mutual trust" ...
Chapter VII. Healing the Victims, Stopping the Torture
By now, having read much of what this book has offered, you may well be feeling pretty discouraged. Not only is it painful to face what human beings do to one another; it is just as difficult to imagine that they will soon stop doing it. And yet the truth is that since the end of the Second World War, ...
Reading 1. Lone Jacobsen and Edith Montgomery, "Treatment of Victims of Torture"
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It seems like a simple enough idea, really. Almost obvious. If victims of torture survive their ordeals, they do so with manifold scars, both physical and psychological, and, if they are to be healed, they need help. But it was not until 1982 that such help took institutional form in one of the earliest torture treatment centers—perhaps the first ...
Reading 2. Amnesty International, "Police Officers Convicted of Torturing Man in Detention"
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One of the key ingredients in improving human rights in a country is exposing the abuses to the light of day. Shame alone may not always be sufficient to force a regime to mend its ways, but it's a sure bet that keeping violations under wraps will guarantee their perpetuation. ...
Reading 3. Minky Worden, ''Torture Spoken Here"
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But how exactly can exposure of human rights crimes transform the human rights situation in a repressive state? In this brief reading from "Torture Spoken Here: Ending Global Torture," Minky Worden, media director for Human Rights Watch, takes the case of Turkey, a country that has had a long record of human rights abuses, ...
Reading 4. European Court of Human Rights, Aydin v. Turkey
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Political pressure, both domestic and international, is a critical component of human rights change. But if new standards are to be put in place and expected to last, they must ultimately be codified in law. Interestingly enough, once new legal understandings are arrived at, they tend in turn to influence cultural norms. ...
Reading 5. Amnesty International, International Criminal Court Q & A Sheet
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The establishment of the Court is still a gift of hope to future generations, and a giant step forward in the march towards universal human rights and the rule of law. (Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, July 18, 1998, at the signing of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in Rome) ...
Reading 6. Geoffrey Robertson, "An End to Impunity"
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Crimes against humanity will only be deterred when their would-be perpetrators—be they political leaders, field commanders or soldiers and policemen—are given pause by the prospect that they will henceforth have no hiding place: that legal nemesis may someday, somewhere, overtake them. ...
Reading 7. Geoffrey Robertson, ''The Case of General Pinochet"
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In 1978, Augusto Pinochet granted an amnesty to "all persons who as authors, accomplices, or accessories committed . . . criminal offences during the period of the State of Siege between 11 September 1973 and 10 March 1978," excluding only (at the insistence of the Carter administration) the Letelier car bombing. ...
Reading 8. Richard Pierre Claude, Filartiga v. Pena-lrala
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Imagine learning many years after you had been tortured that your torturer was at large and living a quiet life in the same neighborhood as you. Imagine running into your torturer on the subway or in a restaurant. And imagine not being able to do anything about it. ...
Reading 9. Priscilla B. Hayner, "The Contribution of Truth Commissions"
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Sometimes it is not possible for one reason or another to take legal action against an alleged torturer. The individual may be beyond reach of the law (either geographically or because he is no longer living); a government may be reluctant to press a case for political reasons or there may be no extant court with jurisdiction to hear the matter. ...
Reading 10. Marc DuBois, "Human Rights Education for the Police"
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It may seem like a fruitless exercise to expect that anyone who is inclined to be a torturer could be trained or educated out of that predilection but recall from Chapter IV that it is possible to "make" or train a torturer who under other circumstances might never opt for that path at all. ...
Appendix: Excerpts from Documents
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How to Get Involved
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This book was first conceptualized more than five years ago. I thought it would be a relatively easy undertaking: just pull together the most important and insightful texts on torture and excerpt the gist of each one. ...
Credits and Permissions
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Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2011
Series Title: Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights