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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12. Human rights

The right to be free from torture . . . is one of the few absolute standards of international law, a right that exists regardless of the economic or social organization of a society.
Irving R. Kaufman, "A Legal Remedy for International Torture?" NY Times Magazine, 11/9/1980

The long journey

The Tsar [Alexander I] published his ban in . . . 1801, decreeing that "finally the very name of torture, bringing shame and reproach on mankind, should be forever erased from the human memory." . . . Witnessing the return of torture in our time, we witness not only widespread suffering under barbarous force, but the overturning of hundreds of years of social and political development.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

Societies that do not recognize the dignity of the human person, or profess to recognize it and fail to do so in practice, or recognize it only in highly selective circumstances, become, not simply societies with torture, but societies in which the presence of torture transforms human dignity itself, and therefore all individual and social life.

Edward Peters, Torture, 1985

Half the French nation rose up against the torture in Algeria. One cannot say often and emphatically enough that by this the French did honor to themselves. Leftist intellectuals protested. Catholic trade unionists and other Christian laymen warned against the torture, and at the risk of their safety and lives took action against it. . . . But that was the great and freedom-loving France, which even in those dark days was not entirely robbed of its liberty.

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

The prohibition of torture has a distinctive status in the pantheon of international rights: It is absolute . . . . The right not to be tortured protects all people -- regardless of social status, political identity, or affiliations -- from being brutalized, injured, or degraded while in the custody of an authority. . . . What this means is that no one -- ever, anywhere -- has a "right" to torture, and that everyone -- always, everywhere -- has a right not to be tortured. It also means that anyone who engages in or abets torture is committing a crime.

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

Americans must ask what more we can do in our political life and educational system to nurture a knowledge and appreciation of the humanitarian ideals of the Geneva Conventions, and the call to pay greater respect to human life and the dignity of the human person they imply.

Steven C. Welsh, "Iraq Prisoner Abuse and the Geneva Conventions," The Defense Monitor, The Newsletter of the Center for Defense Information, May/June 2004

Today, in the industrialized West, when we hear reports of someone being roughed up in police custody, or of the occasional terrorist suspect being made to stand, hooded, against a wall, the ensuing media outcry points up how comparatively humane, for the most part, the system has become. That there is collective shock and outrage should, perhaps, be a source of pride; but have we really abolished torture as a norm, or merely exported it elsewhere? . . . One thing remains certain: whether or not the West is to be held responsible for the continuation of torture in the wider world, the influence of its citizens will be essential if it is ever genuinely to be abolished.

Michael Kerrigan, The Instruments of Torture, 2001

National interests . . .

When some modern historians face the question of the twentieth-century revival of torture . . . they tend to interpret it as the result of new "religions," those of the secular authoritarian and totalitarian states, which exert a demand for total citizenship -- that is, total subjection -- upon their populations.

Edward Peters, Torture, 1985

Torture is state policy in South Africa. It is not simply brutality of the type practiced by whites against blacks in the past. It is applied in a widespread and methodical manner through orders of the top men, and its continuing use is made possible through the cooperation of the whole apparatus of the state.

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

The road to tyranny has always been paved with claims of necessity made by those responsible for the security of a nation. Our system of checks and balances requires that all presidential actions, like all legislative or military actions, be consistent with governing law.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

In an age of vast state strength, ability to mobilize resources, and possession of virtually infinite means of coercion, much of state policy has been based upon the concept of extreme state vulnerability to enemies, external or internal. This unsettling combination . . . has made many twentieth-century states, if not neurotic, then at least extremely ambiguous in their approach to such things as human rights and their own willingness (the states would call it "necessity") to employ procedures that they would otherwise ostensibly never dream of.

Edward Peters, Torture, 1985

President and Congress must balance America's commitment to the principles of international law against our own military and political interests. Critics point out . . . [that] the United States has maintained cordial diplomatic relations with numerous dictators and totalitarian regimes. . . . Our strongest human-rights actions seem to be saved for those countries whose friendship is of little economic or strategic significance to us.

Irving R. Kaufman, "A Legal Remedy for International Torture?" NY Times Magazine, 11/9/1980

In . . . countries in which civilian governments have taken over from a regime that practiced torture, the new leaders, seeing the need for order and continuity, have decided it was not practical to replace every judge, prosecutor, and policeman who held office during the dark ages; as a result, the bureaucracy that supported or tolerated torture remains in place. . . . Putting soldiers or policemen on the witness stand is politically dangerous. They might, after all, name high-ranking officers or public officials who sanctioned the treatment.

John Conroy, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, 2000

The sovereignty of the nation state itself is a great obstacle to the abolition of torture. . . . As long as we identify culture and language and love of place with nation and national government, we are vulnerable to patriotic manipulation . . . . To have any effect on state power . . . one must, as a first step, transcend nationalism.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

Now is the time for our government to invite civil libertarians into the tent to consult with law enforcement officials. . . . The balances we ultimately strike will contain trade-offs between our liberties and our safety that will not satisfy absolutists in either the law enforcement or the civil libertarian camps. But if we work together -- if civil libertarians are brought into the tent in advance, rather then playing their traditional role of criticizing from outside afterward -- the beneficiaries will be all Americans who rightly demand both safety and freedom.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

Terrorism requires us to think carefully about who we are as free peoples and what we need to do in order to remain so. When we are confronted with terrorist violence, we cannot allow the claims of national security to trump the claims of liberty, since what we are trying to defend is our continued existence as a free people. Freedom must set a limit to the measures we employ to maintain it.

Michael Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil: Politial Ethics in an Age of Terror, 2004

If patriotism has to precipitate us into dishonour; if there is no precipice of inhumanity over which nations and men will not throw themselves, then, why . . . do we go to so much trouble to become, or to remain, men?

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

. . . and international law

The difficulties of evolving a policy as regards the human rights record of foreign nations are easily seen, and it is unlikely, given the realities of international politics, that American moves in this matter will ever by entirely consistent or popular. What is important, however, is that the worldwide momentum in behalf of human rights be carried forward.

Irving R. Kaufman, "A Legal Remedy for International Torture?" NY Times Magazine, 11/9/1980

Experience has shown that if torture, which has been deemed illegitimate by the civilized world for more than a century, were now to be legitimated -- even for limited use in one extraordinary type of situation -- such legitimation would constitute an important symbolic setback in the worldwide campaign against human rights abuses. Inevitably, the legitimation of torture by the world's leading democracy would provide a welcome justification for its more widespread use in other parts ofthe world.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

The present Government of the United States shows no concern for human rights. Henry Kissinger and his President were silent for months while their allies in Pakistan slaughtered the Bengalis. Washington has nothing to say about a Greek Government that rules by terror. Or about the Government of South Korea, whose kidnappings and brutalities make Communist regimes look almost decorous by comparison . . . Some of the nastiest governments in the world today were born or grew with American aid. That being the case, the most modest view of our responsibity would require us to say a restraining word to them occasionally. But we say nothing, we hear nothing, we see nothing.

Anthony Lewis, "The Meaning of Torture," NY Times, 5/30/1974

Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere. We are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law. . . . Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit. . . . These despicable crimes cannot be tolerated by a world committed to justice. . . . I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment.

President George W. Bush, Statement on United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 6/26/2003

The Supreme Court has upheld an important law that offers victims of torture, genocide, slavery and war crimes worldwide a day in court, and a shot at justice. The law, the arcane Alien Tort Claims Act, was originally written to fight piracy in 1789, but it has been used by foreigners to sue in American courts for overseas human rights violations. . . . Victims of the Abu Ghraib prison abuses are now suing the prison's private contractors under the act. . . . International businesses hate the law . . . The Bush administration agrees.

Editorial, "Human Rights and the Court," NY Times, 7/3/2004

Despite the emergence of an international consensus condemning torture, the abominable practice remains with us. We watch nations committed to enforcing this norm of international law -- our own included -- seemingly overlooking the human-rights records of certain allies and rivals in an attempt to maintain the balance of power and to avoid confrontation.

Irving R. Kaufman, "A Legal Remedy for International Torture?" NY Times Magazine, 11/9/1980

The use of torture as a political instrument is an evil beyond justification or compromise, a practice officially condemned by every civilized society. Yet it goes on in many places around the world. . . . But what has all this to do with the United States? Secretary of State Kissinger has told us that this country cannot reform the internal policies of other governments. As a generality that is fair enough. But it is not enough when we have a share of responsibility.

Anthony Lewis, "The Meaning of Torture," NY Times, 5/30/1974

State authority has come upon us so slowly we have not quite noticed. . . . Awareness is only partial and intermittent; most of us still maintain a certain illusion of safety, innocence. But in certain other places fear of the state is a constant condition, the terror of the defenseless against the all-powerful. No other factor underlines this general uneasiness before the state so much as the restoration of torture.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

In times of war and terror

Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. An unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited. . . . Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

Department of the Army, FM 34-52, Appendix J, Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War 23 August 1949 Article 13, HUMANE TREATMENT OF PRISONERS, May 8, 1987

In the words of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture." The United States ratified this convention in 1994.

Lisa Hajjar, "Torture and the Politics of Denial," In These Times, 6/21/2004

A memorandum prepared by a Defense Department legal task force . . . [declared] that President Bush was not bound by either an international treaty prohibiting torture or by a federal anti-torture law because he had the authority as commander in chief to approve any technique needed to protect the nation's security.

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

To get around the inconvenience of the Geneva Conventions, the administration twisted the roles of the legal counsels of the White House, the Pentagon and the Justice Department beyond recognition. . . . [They] have been turned into the sort of cynical corporate lawyers who figure out how to make something illegal seem kosher -- or at least how to minimize the danger of being held to account.

Andrew Rosenthal, "Legal Breach: The Government's Attorneys and Abu Ghraib," NY Times, 12/30/2004

When the administration is even considering the legality of torture, that seems like a moral regression. We don't see this as a matter of legal terms, we see it as a matter of right and wrong.

Tom Perriello, co-director of, quoted in Mark Glassman, "U.S. Religious Figures Offer Abuse Apology on Arab TV," NY Times, 6/11/2004

The danger is that, because the "emergency" we find ourselves in following September 11 will endure for a long time, we may become accustomed to so many gradual, incremental compromises that we will not realize when we have crossed the line until we are well beyond it -- especially since there is no single bright line separating democracy from tyranny.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

Although this nation unquestionably must take strong action under the leadership of the commander in chief to protect itself against enormous and unprecedented threats, that necessity cannot negate the existence of the most basic fundamental rights for which the people of this country have fought and died for well over 200 years.

Judge Hens Green, Federal District Court in Washington, quoted in Neil A. Lewis, "Judge Extends Legal Rights for Guant namo Detainees," NY Times, 2/1/2005

When the fight against terror amounts to an armed conflict, states are obliged to observe the principles of international humanitarian law even when their security is at stake. . . . Some commentators . . . argue that . . . the legal protection of people against abuses of their dignity needs to be watered down in order to stop terrorist acts. I disagree. Any body of law must be continuously reassessed . . . But we will never accept a weakening of the legal provisions safeguarding the rights of people caught up in armed conflicts.

Jacob Kellenberger, President, International Committee of the Red Cross, "Protecting life and dignity," Financial Times, 5/19/2004

You can't keep a war humane. It's hard to argue that we're not being brutalized, but I think we can still stand for a set of ethics: respect for the dignity of life, a sense of limits to what we can and cannot do, a complete rejection of the theory that the end justifies the means. This is the cutting edge between us and Communism. Even in practical terms we're better off being as humane as possible because then the enemy is less reluctant to surrender.

A U.S. military commander in Saigon, quoted in William Tuohy, "A Big 'Dirty Little War'," NY Times Magazine, 11/28/1965

War and torture are bedmates. . . . When once war breaks out, torture may be recognized as an inevitable concomitant. Even if the governments concerned ostensibly denounce and prohibit torture, it occurs nevertheless. There is no way in which bodies of men or individuals can be prevented from surreptitiously practising torture upon such of their enemies as fall into their power where licence to kill and maim has been freely given.

George Ryley Scott, The History of Torture Throughout The Ages, 1959

Terrorism does not present us with a distinctively new temptation. This is what our institutions were designed for back in the seventeenth century: to regulate evil means and control evil people. The chief ethical challenge with relation to terrorism is relatively simple . . . because we are fighting a war whose essential prize is preserving the identity of liberal society itself and preventing it from becoming what terrorists believe it to be. Terrorists seek to strip off the mask of law to reveal the nihilist heart of coercion within, and we have to show ourselves and the populations whose loyalty we seek that the rule of law is not a mask but the true image of our nature.

Michael Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil: Politial Ethics in an Age of Terror, 2004

As United States officials have known for months, some of the American soldiers brought their own version of sadism to [Abu Ghraib prison]. Now that the rest of the world knows as well, the Bush administration will have to do more than denounce the scandal as the work of a few bad apples. . . . Terrorists . . . have always intended to use their violence to prod the United States and its allies into demonstrating that their worst anti-American propaganda was true. . . . and it is unlikely that any response by the Bush administration will wipe its stain from the minds of Arabs. The invasion of Iraq, which has already begun to seem like a bad dream in so many ways, cannot get much more nightmarish than this.

Editorial, "The Nightmare at Abu Ghraib," NY Times, 5/3/2004

The spread of insurgency, terrorism, genocide, and nuclear weapons in the 20th Century further undermined the notion of conducting war according to rules or conventions. The history of warfare seems to indicate that countries adhere to the conventions when they suffer no strategic disadvantage from doing so. The rules tend to be ignored when the outcome of a conflict is uncertain, the enemy is believed to have already transgressed, or prolonged fighting has led to a more general breakdown in civilized behavior.

Loren Thompson, Lexington Institute, quoted in Brad Knickerbocker, "Can torture be justified?," Christian Science Monitor, 5/19/2004

There was a general consensus that the . . . attacks of September 2001 have precipitated policy changes in the United States and other nations because of preoccupation with the use of force as the sole means to combat terrorism. This is leading to an alarming erosion of the rule of law in established and emerging democracies and giving comfort to undemocratic governments that previously were the subject of intense pressure on their human rights policies.

President Jimmy Carter, quoted in The Carter Center Update, Summer 2004

The United States would be incapable of mounting an unlimited war against terrorism because we are constrained by our Constitution, our commitment to the rule of law, and our heritage of fairness, humanenesss, and proportionality. . .. We are not about to goose-step down this road -- and surrender our liberties and our heritage -- on the basis of uncertain risks.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

I became convinced that the atmosphere of war brutalizes everyone involved, begets a fanaticism in which the original moral factor (which certainly existed in World War II -- opposition to a ruthless tyranny, to brutal aggression) is buried at the bottom of a heap of atrocities committed by all sides.

Howard Zinn, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, 1994

Torture should remain anathema to a liberal democracy and should never be regulated, countenanced, or covertly accepted in a war on terror. For torture, when committed by a state, expresses the state's ultimate view that human beings are expendable. This view is antithetical to the spirit of any constitutional society whose raison d'être is the control of violence and coercion in the name of human dignity and freedom.

Michael Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil: Politial Ethics in an Age of Terror, 2004

The prohibition on torture is one of the basic, absolute prohibitions that exists in international law. It exists in time of peace as well as in time of war. It exists regardless of the severity of a security threat.

Ken Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, CNN broadcast with Wolf Blitzer and Alan Dershowitz, 3/4/2003

Striking the proper constitutional balance here is of great importance to the nation during this period of on-going combat. But it is equally vital that our calculus not give short shrift to the values that this country holds dear or to the privilege that is American citizenship. It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our nation's commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Majority Opinion, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 6/28/2004

The future of human rights

Only by writing of the cruelties that have been inflicted upon men, women and children for centuries past can the horrors of present-day torture . . . be held in check and prevented from spreading in the political, military and ecclesiastical spheres so that, although hearts may have to be broken -- bodies may remain intact and unbroken, minds be confined within the realms of reason and rationalisation and the atrocities of the past never again resurrected.

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

If there is one lesson that history teaches it is that any possibility of abolishing torture is endangered by the existence of cruelty in any form and for any purpose. In all circumstances and at all times cruelty may easily develop into torture, and the toleration or sanction of one form of torture may easily lead to the introduction of other forms.

George Ryley Scott, The History of Torture Throughout The Ages, 1959

Torture cannot be prohibited without an attack upon state power, limiting it, pruning it back to democratic proportions, imposing strict limitations upon its increasing luxuriance. One wonders if the time for that has already passed. Or has not yet come into being.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

Just at the moment when one is congratulating oneself on the progress made . . . on every side and in every country, there is an outbreak of torture which, in its details and in its extent, equal anything that occurred in the worst days of the Spanish Inquisition. And every time one of these sporadic epidemics occurs one feels, with much justification, that the clock has been put back a hundred years in as many minutes. One sighs for the future of humanity.

George Ryley Scott, The History of Torture Throughout The Ages, 1959

The many forms of state terrorism are now a global situation . . . for this generation and the next to face, and possibly, with fortitude and determination, to dismantle and abolish.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

Keeping torture illegal and struggling to enforce its prohibition are the front lines of a battle to defend one of the core rights that all human beings can claim. If torture is legitimized and legalized in the future, it is not "the terrorists" who will lose, but "the humans."

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

The most plausible case for an absolute ban on physical torture . . . in every circumstance is related precisely to [the] issue of moral hazard. No one should have to decide when torture is or is not justified, and no one should be ordered to carry it out. An absolute prohibition is legitimate because in practice such a prohibition relieves a state's public servants from the burden of making intolerable choices, ones that inflict irremediable harm both on our enemies and on . . . those charged with our defense.

Michael Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil: Politial Ethics in an Age of Terror, 2004

One doesn't end torture, it is brought to an end. Slowly and with enormous effort, friction, energy, like a locomotive brought gradually to a standstill. . . a collective will. Something missing still or only being born and as yet too young, and small.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

We look back on the Middle Ages now and thank God we did not live in those dreadful times. People in the Twenty-First Century may look back on these times and thank God they were not alive in this century.

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

One of the important objectives of the human rights movement has been, is, and will always be the fight for the absolute, total and complete eradication of torture. On this point, there is not, and there must not be, any concessions made. . . . To say NO to torture and any kind of human rights violation is a form of individual liberation and it is one of the most effective mechanisms for building a more equal and democratic society.

Sergio Aguayo Quezada, President, Mexican Academy of Human Rights, Reflections, Historical Torture Museum, 2/1996

The knowledge of torture is itself a political act, just as silence or ignorance of it have political consequence. To speak of the unspeakable is the beginning of action. . . . If the world keeps silent afterward, torture is not only victorious but permanent, eternal.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

It is imperative that we . . . never again . . . allow Education to be perverted into a tool for prejudice, an instrument for demeaning human nature, or an intellectual weapon for justifying the Evils of inhumane treatment of our brothers and sisters of any race, religion, ethnicity, or political persuasion. Education must be our salvation, not our damnation. . . . It is our first line of defense against Evil, and it is the source of strength we all need to resist the ever-present, pervasive, powerful forces in the world that would lure us . . . to descend into the realm of the next generation of evil perpetrators.

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

One thing is certain -- whatever the state of the world in 2000 -- torture . . . will still exist. There will still be men and women with plenty of material from which to compile more and still more books . . . right up to today [1966] -- to the very moment you personally, are reading the concluding words to this history.

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

Any reader who spends any length of time studying the history of torture is unlikely to come away with a particularly exalted view of human nature. At the same time, however . . . could the comparative absence of torture in today's highly developed, industrialized nations ever conceivably be the norm throughout the entire world? . . . That it might one day be so relies, in large part, on the work of today's campaigners for human rights -- ordinary men, women and children, the very people who are most often the victims of torture.

Michael Kerrigan, The Instruments of Torture, 2001

We must try our best to strike the appropriate balances without knowing what the future holds. In striking these balances, we must never forget our deep commitment to liberty, equality, and the rule of law. We must not allow the terrorists to win either by destroying us or by destroying what we stand for. It will not be easy.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

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