Not in MY name! A collection of quotes on the past, present, and future of the practice of torture / Selected and arranged by Ella Mazel


Detailed Table of Contents


1. What is torture?

2. The more things change ...

3. The purpose of torture

4. The "rules" of torture

5. The techniques of interrogation

6. Can torture ever be justified?

7. What about terrorism?

8. Secrecy and public relations

9. Does torture get results?

10. The torturers

11. The victims

12. Human rights

Index of sources

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1. What is torture?

TORTURE (from Lat. torquere, to twist), the general name for innumerable modes of inflicting pain which have been from time to time devised by the perverted ingenuity of man, and especially for those employed in a legal aspect by the civilized nations of antiquity and of Modern Europe. . . . The whole subject is now one of only historical interest as far as Europe is concerned.
The Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, 1910-1911

Definitions . . .

Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating him or other persons.

United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Torture, Article 1, 9 December 1975

Torture refers to the purposeful harming of someone in custody -- unfree to fight back or protect himself or herself and imperiled by that incapacitation. . . . The Geneva Conventions avoided a detailed list of prohibited acts precisely to ensure the broadest possible reach with no loopholes.

Lisa Hajjar, 'Our Heart of Darkness,' amnesty now (Amnesty International), Summer 2004

Torture [is] one of the most demeaning acts of human violence, and in some ways worse than murder since it involves personal contact, intimate knowledge of another person's vulnerabilities, and the intentional desire to violate that vulnerability.

Philip G. Zimbardo, "Transforming People into Perpetrators of Evil," Stanford University Lecture, 3/9/1999

It is . . . possible to see the denials of torture on the part of many governments as something more than mere hypocrisy or blatant public relations mania. Because it has been so variously defined, torture is now, without extremely precise language, virtually impossible to define.

Edward Peters, Torture, 1985

No one has been able to put together a clear-cut definition of where mistreatment ends and torture begins. A certain kind of ill-treatment, for example, done once or something done for a short period of time, may not be torture. But if is done over an extended period of time, it could very well be torture. . . . The question is, what is the impact on the person to whom the harm is being done?

James Ross, Human Rights Watch, quoted in Andrew Tully, "Iraq: Treatment of Prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb -- Abuse or Torture," Radio Free Europe, 4/5/2004

Defining precisely what constitutes torture has long been the source of controversy. One rule of thumb is that it is easiest to define when some country other then your own is employing it. Thus a given method deployed by our army is not torture, though it might be if it were done to us.

John Conroy, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, 2000

What is torture? "Infliction of severe bodily pain, e.g. as punishment or means of persuasion. . ." (Concise Oxford Dictionary). Is . . . mental suffering counted as less than bodily pain? And how severe must the bodily pain be before it can be called torture?

Hilda Bernstein, "Torture in the apartheid state," National Guardian, 12/26/1964

Torture is the ultimate act of state power. In arrogating to itself the capacity to torture its citizens, the state has assumed absolute power over them. . . . There is no clear distinction between physical, psychological, and judicial torment. Each is its own expression of power.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

Torture . . . is an unspeakable evil, regardless of its specific nature or precise degree. Yet the word "torture" has no precise meaning. It can range from the most unmitigated cruelty as a prelude to death to the most antiseptic, nonlethal, and even nonphysical mind games that police play with suspects.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

We tend to use the co-joined terms "ill-treatment or torture" or "ill-treatment that may be tantamount to torture." The context matters enormously. That's why the definitions reflect that ambiguity. But I think there are cases that are beyond any dispute . . . at the end of the day, they're all prohibited.

Alistair Hodgett, quoted in Andrew Tully, "Iraq: Treatment of Prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb -- Abuse or Torture," Radio Free Europe, 4/5/2004

The precise point at which legitimate punishment becomes cruel abuse, or close confinement constitutes torture, is . . . a matter of difficult debate. What is not in doubt, however, is the incalculable suffering endured by men and women throughout the ages.

Michael Kerrigan, The Instruments of Torture, 2001

The word "torture" . . . to twist . . . contains within itself almost every element of cruelty, for the very expression summons up visions of twisted minds, twisted bodies, twisted hearts and souls. Not the least twisted minds are those who inflict these tortures.

Edwin J. Henri, Methods of Torture and Execution, 1966

Torture is conquest through irresistible force. It is to destroy opposition through causing it to destroy itself: in despair, in self-hatred for its own vulnerability, impotence. It is to defile, degrade, overwhelm with shame, to ravage.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

Torture is senseless violence, born in fear. . . . the torturer pits himself against the tortured for his "manhood" and the duel is fought as if it were not possible for both sides to belong to the human race.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Introduction to Henri Alleg, The Question, 1958

If solitary confinement and enclosure in a box where one cannot lie down, if sleeplessness for the customary number of days which accompany the beginning of interrogation do not remain as marks upon the body -- they are torture nevertheless.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

. . . and pushing the envelope

Many doctors who treat torture victims have warned for months that the United States was dangerously disregarding the hard-won international conventions against torture. They were distressed, they said, that government officials have asserted that interrogation techniques like "water boarding" . . . stop short of torture.

Nina Bernstein, "Once Tortured, Now Tormented by Photos," NY Times, 5/15/2004

The modern techniques of torture include not only the traditional methods of physical pain but also the use of complex psychological and pharmacological methods that have been developed out of studies of medical research and the psychology of pain. One of the most disturbing is the suppression of the body's natural process of pain inhibition, causing an enhancement and extension of an already excruciating pain.

The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Micropædia, 15th edition , 2002

A memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department provided a rationale for using torture to extract information from Qaeda operatives. It provided complex definitions of torture that seemed devised to allow interrogators to evade being charged with that offense.

Neil A. Lewis, "Documents Build a Case for Working Outside the Laws on Interrogating Prisoners," NY Times, 6/9/2004

"Severe pain" as used in Section 2340 [the federal law criminalizing torture] must rise to . . . the level that would ordinarily be associated with a sufficiently serious physical condition or injury such as death, organ failure or serious impairment of body functions in order to constitute torture.

Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Legal Counsel, Justice Department, Memo dated 8/1/2002, quoted in Kate Zernike, "Defining Torture," NY Times, 6/27/2004

As the adult child of a Holocaust survivor, I am shocked and ashamed by the Bush administration's [lawyers] parsing of what is and what is not torture. One thing that is undeniably tortured is the reasoning of these craven people, who seek to rationalize barbarity. Not in my name.

Felice O'Ryan, To the Editor, NY Times, 6/8/2004

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