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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10. The torturers

Either torturers are written off as sadists, or . . . they are blandly imagined to be loyal officers merely doing an unpleasant duty. The question of sadism among torturers is complex. Although many sadists are indeed drawn into the role of torturer when such a role is available, it is also arguable that the institution of torture creates as many sadists as it attracts.
Edward Peters, Torture, 1985

Does torture attract sadists . . .

Modern police torture is without the theological complicity that, no doubt, in the Inquisition joined both sides; faith united them even in the delight of tormenting and the pain of being tormented. The torturer believed he was exercising God's justice, since he was, after all, purifying the offender's soul; the tortured heretic or witch did not at all deny him this right. There was a horrible and perverted togetherness. In present-day torture not a bit of this remains. For the tortured, the torturer is solely the other.

Jean Améry, At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities, 1966 (reissued in English, 1980)

To historians and psychiatrists, the minds of men responsible for devising intricate and mechanical means of inflicting torture . . . . have been a continued source of fascination. Undoubtedly, there has been, and is to this very day -- a type of "vocation" that calls men (and sometimes women) to the service of sadism, as much as there is a vocation calling men and women to perform works of mercy, healing and spiritual guiding for humanity.

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

There is a widespread misconception . . . that anyone can become a terrorist or a torturer. . . . In real life, torturers and terrorists are self-selected. . . . If we were to believe that everyone is potentially . . . a torturer . . . there would be no basis for the civil society and a permanent state of intercommunal, intergenerational warfare would prevail. Indeed, there would be no martyrs, no humanitarians and neither scientific progress nor theological development.

Rona M. Fields, "Obliterate the idea of a potential torturer within," Science & Theology News, July/August 2004

Torture was no invention of National Socialism. But it was its apotheosis. The Hitler vassal did not yet achieve his full identity if he was merely as quick as a weasel, tough as leather, hard as Krupp steel. . . . The Nazis tortured as did others, because by means of torture they wanted to obtain information important for national policy. But in addition they tortured with the good conscience of depravity. They martyred their prisoners for definite purposes . . . Above all, however, they tortured because they were torturers. They placed torture in their service. But even more fervently they were its servants.

Jean Améry, At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities, 1966 (reissued in English, 1980)

[In Brazil . . . when another prisoner fainted] the officers in the front row laughed . . . and it was their laughter that remained most vividly with Murilo, long after the soles of his feet had healed. He remembered thinking, I am suffering agony, and these men are having the time of their lives.

A. J. Langguth, "The Mind of a Torturer," The Nation, 6/24/1978

The use of torture has moved away from any practical need to obtain information, or impose a legal penalty for wrongdoing, to allow the more powerful to enjoy the pleasure of inflicting random pain upon the less fortunate.

Brian Innes, The History of Torture, 1998

In the world of torture man exists only by ruining the other person who stands before him. . . . When it has happened and the torturer has expanded into the body of his fellow man and extinguished what was his spirit, he himself can then smoke a cigarette or sit down to breakfast.

Jean Améry, At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities, 1966 (reissued in English, 1980)

Cheap dramatization, sordid enaction, posturing; the torturer permitted to release and enact the most ephemeral fantasy, to do the unthinkable. Things imagined, dreamed of, joked about, acts that exist only in language or fantasy. . .. And as that unheard-of permission is granted by the state -- enjoined in fact, indoctrinated, commissioned -- the sensibility of the torturer is unleashed.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

A USAF Psychiatrist . . . determined that there was evidence that the horrific abuses suffered by the detainees at Abu Ghraib . . . were wanton acts of select soldiers in an unsupervised and dangerous setting. There was a complex interplay of many psychological factors and command insufficiencies. . . . Psychological factors, such as the difference in culture, the Soldiers' quality of life, the real presence of mortal danger over an extended time period, and the failure of commanders to recognize these pressures contributed to the perversive atmosphere that existed at Abu Ghraib.

Taguba Report -- Hearing Article 15-6, Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade, (Made public May 2004)

Henri Alleg, still in prison today in Algiers, tells without unnecessary padding and with admirable precision what he underwent when "questioned." The torturers, as they themselves promised, "looked after him." . . . And what distinguishes us from these sadists? Nothing does, because we do not protest.

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

. . . or create them

It's very disconcerting to hear the president say it was just a few bad apples, which is a conclusion about how high the case goes. I don't think we know how high the case goes.

James Ross, Human Rights Watch, quoted in Steven Lee Myers and Eric Schmitt, "Wide Gaps Seen in U.S. Inquiries on Prison Abuse," NY Times, 6/6/2004

From the moment the atrocities at Abu Ghraib came to light, military commanders, members of the Administration and, indeed, the Commander in Chief were quick to label those implicated as "bad apples." . . . Psychologists and historians who study torture give what is probably the most disturbing explanation of all: they are us. For under certain circumstances, almost anyone has the capacity to commit the atrocities.

Claudia Wallis, "Why Did They Do It?" Time Magazine, 5/17/2004

Some of our beloved soldiers have committed barbarous acts of cruelty and sadism. . . . Those responsible should suffer severe sanctions if found guilty. However . . . should these few army reservists be blamed as the "bad apples" in a good barrel of American soldiers, as our leaders have characterized them? Or are they the once-good apples soured and corrupted by an evil barrel? . . . We must not permit the authorities to deflect the blame and responsibility from themselves by pointing fingers at those soldiers who went into the administration's preemptive war as proud Americans and return now as disgraced prison guards. . . . Before more of our youth are corrupted, perhaps the time has come to empty out the vinegar of needless war that has filled that evil barrel.

Philip G. Zimbardo, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Stanford University, "Power turns good soldiers into 'bad apples'," Editorial, Boston Globe, 5/9/2004

In a 1971 experiment . . . Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo created a fake prison ward on campus and randomly assigned student volunteers to be prisoners or guards. What was to be a two-week experiment had to be cut short after just six days because the guards "began to use the prisoners as playthings for their amusement."

Claudia Wallis, "Why Did They Do It?" Time Magazine, 5/17/2004

Specialists say the dominating power of guards over prisoners, exercised outside public view, bears an inherent possibility of maltreatment almost anywhere. . . . Prisoners are inevitably degraded and devalued, to an extent, by their captivity, making them more likely targets. Guards have legitimate reasons to establish their authority, and the line between bossing and brutalizing can blur. In a classic . . . test in 1971, ordinary college students picked by coin toss to play guards in a mock prison were treating pretend prisoners like real animals within a week. The experimenter, Philip Zimbardo, was later quoted as saying his experiment seemed temporarily to blot out the experiences of a lifetime, "and the ugliest, most base, pathological side of human nature surfaced."

Jeff Donn, "Psychology offers clues in prison abuse," Associated Press, 5/7/2004

It seemed to me that many . . . well-meaning men and women had the idea that torture was something done in some backward civilization by the barely human and certainly ignorant. I was gradually becoming aware, however, that torture is something that most of us are capable of.

John Conroy, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, 2000

The stereotype is that the torturer . . . is driven by a warped sadism. But more commonly, some psychologists say, torturers are often not sadists so much as otherwise normal people who under certain circumstances sink into a routine of intimate horror in which they hurt or mutilate another human being, while staying aloof from the screams and agony of their victims.

Daniel Goleman, "The Torturer's Mind: Complex View Emerges," NY Times, 5/14/1985

Human behavior is much more under the control of situational forces than most of us recognize or want to acknowledge. In a situation that implicitly gives permission for suspending moral values, many of us can be morphed into creatures alien to our usual natures. . . . Unless we learn the dynamics of "why," we will never be able to counteract the powerful forces that can transform ordinary people into evil perpetrators.

Philip G. Zimbardo, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Stanford University, "Power turns good soldiers into 'bad apples'," Editorial, Boston Globe, 5/9/2004

I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and . . . authority won more often than not. . .

The essence of obedience is that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes, and he therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions. . . . The most frequent defense of the individual who has performed a heinous act under command of authority is that he has simply done his duty. . . . Perhaps this is the most common characteristic of socially organized evil in modern society.

Stanley Milgram, "The Perils of Obedience," abridged from Obedience to Authority, 1974

Psychologists search for reasons, for some process of conversion that makes an ordinary man or woman -- for there are women torturers also -- into the monster of our imaginations. Some experts argue that the key is in the torturer's training, others that certain personalities are more capable. Some believe that the larger society serves as an incubator, while others contend that the situation alone dictates behavior.

John Conroy, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, 2000

We would almost be too lucky if these crimes were the work of savages: the truth is that torture makes torturers. . . . None of these men exists by himself, not one of them will remain as he is; they all undergo a gradual transformation.

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

No one ever fully recovers -- not the one who is tortured, and not the one who tortures. Every time he tortures, the torturer reinforces the idea that we cannot trust one another, and that we cannot trust the world we live in.

Sister Dianna Ortiz, The Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth, 2002

It would have been very comforting indeed to believe that Eichmann was a monster. . . . The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied . . . that this new type of criminal . . . commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong.

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, 1963

Almost amazingly, it dawns on one that the fellows not only have leather coats and pistols, but also faces: not "Gestapo faces" with twisted noses, hypertrophied chins, pockmarks, and knife scars, as might appear in a book, but rather faces like anyone else's. Plain, ordinary faces. And the enormous perception at a later stage . . . makes clear to us how the plain ordinary faces finally become Gestapo faces after all, and how evil overlays and exceeds banality. For there is no "banality of evil" . . . . When an event places the most extreme demands on us, one ought not to speak of banality. For at this point there is no longer any abstraction . . . that could even approach its reality.

Jean Améry, At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities, 1966 (reissued in English, 1980)

How could ordinary American soldiers and civilian contractors inflict such degradation on other human beings? . . . Torture and humiliation is a landscape without boundaries, a terrible slope that even the most practiced interrogators can slide down once they allow themselves to apply the slightest physical or psychological pressure.

James Glanz, "Torture Is Often a Temptation And Almost Never Works," NY Times, 5/9/2004

In spite of the comforting aspects of writing torture off as the play of sadists, it seems wiser to apply psychological analysis to the torturers only after they have become torturers, and to assume as a working hypothesis that the institution of torture itself may act as an agent that transforms individual psyches.

Edward Peters, Torture, 1985

What they were doing to the prisoners, they were doing to us, too. We were all so frustrated that when we got hold of a prisoner we just started beating him. It was a way of letting loose.

Dimitrios Staikos, quoted in Steven V. Roberts, "Tortures of Junta Era Still Haunting Greeks," NY Times, 1/10/1975

According to experts, the preconditions that can lead someone to become a torturer include a fervently held ideology that attributes great evil to some other group and defines the believer as a guardian of the social good, an attitude of unquestioning obedience to authority, and the open or tacit support of the torturer by his peers.

Daniel Goleman, "The Torturer's Mind: Complex View Emerges," NY Times, 5/14/1985

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