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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2. The more things change . . .

The progress of mankind has been shadowed by the grisly history of torture and execution. For every shining triumph of human endeavor there has been a dark example of state-sanctioned depravity. Each illustration of courage and wisdom goes hand in hand with an unbecoming horror of human design.
Jean Kellaway, The History of Torture and Execution, 2000

. . . the more they stay the same

No place in the wide world can claim freedom from the stain of sadism in some era or other, neither can any location in the world today state frankly that no judicial or ecclesiastical torture is brought to bear upon one type of political, civil or religious prisoner or the other.

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

The despair of the humanitarian has always been largely the result of those sporadic bursts of torture and persecution with which the history of the world is so liberally punctuated.

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

Then . . .

However repugnant the practice of torture may appear to us today, one very important point must be borne in mind: for at least three thousand years it was legal, and in fact formed a part of most legal codes in Europe and the Far East.

Brian Innes, The History of Torture, 1998

Antiochus . . . made it Death for any to observe the Jewish Religion, and compelled them, by Tortures, to abjure it. . . . and sacrifice to the Grecian Gods. . . . The inhuman Barbarities he exercised . . . are not . . . to be parallel'd by any Histories of Persecution extant; and will ever render the Name and Memory of that illustrious Tyrant execrable and infamous.

Samuel Chandler, The History of Persecution, 1736

It was not til the death of Christ that torture received the impetus which kept it going for so many years. . . . It had been a legal remedy carried out within legal limits. and it had not been used, except by tyrants. . . as a means to alter opinions. The more steadfastly, however, the early Christians maintained their opinions, the more terrible did the methods of torture become, and the more illegal and unrighteous their application. Planted on a barbaric foundation, they slowly grew in ingenuity till they reached the height of cruelty at the time of the Holy Inquisition.

John Swain, The Pleasures of the Torture Chamber, 1931

If one considers carefully the modes of punishment known to the Romans one finds, except in a few outstanding cases, nearly every previous method of torment brought to a higher state of perfection. . . . The Roman system is very important, as it was the basis of all subsequent European systems which recognised torture as part of their procedure, and the rules attained a refinement beyond anything attempted in Greece.

John Swain, The Pleasures of the Torture Chamber, 1931

I shall not trouble my Reader with an Account of [the] Persecution carried on by Severus, Decius, Gallus, Valerianus, Dioclesian, and others of the Roman Emperors; but only observe in general, that the most excessive and outragious Barbarities were made use of upon all who would not blaspheme Christ, and offer Incense to the imperial Gods. They were publickly . . . destroy'd by all the various Methods that the most diabolical Subtlety and Malice could devise.

Samuel Chandler, The History of Persecution, 1736

To the Greeks and Romans . . . truth was held to reside not in the witness's words, but in his living flesh. Profoundly sceptical of the value of verbal testimony, a legal manual of the time counselled close attention to what we would now call body language. . . . The truth was thought to be locked up in the living body of the witness; the torturer's task was to prise it out through the medium of pain.

Michael Kerrigan, The Instruments of Torture, 2001

The Notaries, Registers, or Secretaries of the Inquisition, write down the Injunctions, Accusations, and all the Pleadings of the Causes; the Depositions of the Witnesses, and Answers of the Criminals; and . . . whether they tremble or hesitate in speaking, whether they frequently interrupt the Interrogatories by hawking or spitting, or whether their Voice trembles; that by these Circumstances they may know when to put the Criminals to the Torture.

Samuel Chandler, The History of Persecution, 1736

Since the primary principle of torture is to inflict pain -- or, at the very least, to threaten pain, and so exploit the fear of it -- the methods employed by the torturer can be of the crudest type: any form of violence is sufficient for his purpose. It is only when the legal code requires the form of torture, and its stages, to be strictly defined -- or, alternatively, when the torturer derives paticular sadistic pleasure from his duties -- that special instruments and machines . . . have been devised.

Brian Innes, The History of Torture, 1998

In the twelfth century, the systematic persecution of heresy began, under forms that restored the Roman practice of torture -- a practice that had practically disappeared during the so-called Dark Ages. The mechanization of torture was not the least achievement of medieval technics.

Lewis Mumford, The Condition of Man, 1944

All the safeguards which human experience had shown to be necessary in judicial proceedings of the most trivial character were deliberately cast aside. . . . The inquisitor . . . was empowered and instructed to proceed summarily, to disregard forms, to permit no impediments arising from judicial rules or the wrangling of advocates, to shorten the proceedings as much as possible by depriving the accused of the ordinary facilities of defence, and by rejecting all appeals and dilatory exceptions.

Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, 1887

The Holy Inquisition may . . . be said to have started in the thirteenth century, and from that time it spread all over Europe. . . . Torture was abolished in 1816, in all offices of the Holy Inquisition.

John Swain, The Pleasures of the Torture Chamber, 1931

From the second half of the thirteenth century to the end of the eighteenth, torture was part of the ordinary criminal procedure of the Latin Church and of most of the states of Europe. . . . Statutory abolition of torture in criminal law swept virtually all of Europe during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, to the extent that Victor Hugo could announce in 1874 that "torture has ceased to exist."

Edward Peters, Torture, 1985

Until 1768 not only the governors of a province, but Judges and even Feudal lords, were entitled to inflict torture in Austria and Hungary, but in that year the Empress Maria Theresa passed various laws restricting the use of torture and setting out in detail the instruments to be used [in a huge volume called Constitutio Criminalis Theresiana].

John Swain, The Pleasures of the Torture Chamber, 1931

The nineteenth-century historians of torture . . . could write with a sense of freedom . . . [that] torture, along with "barbarism," "superstition," despotism and theology, stand like gravestones over . . . the buried wreckage of a hopelessly irrational past. . . . By the end of the First World War [1918], torture had returned, and since that time it has increased in frequency and intensity.

Edward Peters, Torture, 1985

By 1800 most European countries had legally abolished the use of torture, but in the 20th century it reappeared in unexpectedly high proportions. The political pressures of the modern state were blamed for this increase, particularly its use by armies during wartime and by intelligence agencies.

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

. . . and now

Torture is practiced now on a scale the world has never seen before, diminishing even the centuries of the Inquisition. This is true despite that recent moment in Western history which witnessed the widespread abolition of torture in criminal procedure. As such traditional legal or judicial torture was outlawed, a hope arose that torture itself would be become a thing of the past.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

Torture is . . . a plague infecting our whole era. There are brutes East as well as West. . . . Disavowed -- sometimes very quietly -- but systematically practised behind a façade of democratic legality, torture has now acquired the status of a semi-clandestine institution.

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

In the past few weeks photographs have appeared . . . showing the tortures inflicted on Viet-Cong prisoners by troops of the Vietnam army. In the long, frustrating war . . . in Indo-China there has, of course, always been a practice of torture by the French -- but at least in the old days . . . hypocrisy paid a tribute to virtue by hushing up the torture inflicted by its own soldiers and condemning the torture inflicted by the other side. The strange new feature about the photographs . . . in the British and American Press, is that they have been taken with the approval of the torturers and are published over captions that contain no hint of condemnation. . . . The long slow slide into barbarism of the western world seems to have quickened. For these photographs are of torturers belonging to an army which could not exist without American aid and counsel. . . . I wonder whether this kind of honesty without conscience is really to be preferred to the old hypocrisy.

Graham Greene, Letter to London Daily Telegraph, 11/6/1964

What distinguishes the present wave of torture from others is that where formerly it presented itself as a series of national crises . . . today we confront an international network of Torture States exchanging expertise and equipment.

Jean-Pierre Clavel, "Torture, an Official Way of Life in 30 Countries," NY Times, 8/4/1974

Official torture remains a chillingly widespread abuse. The press is filled with reports . . . . The list seems endless -- and it does not even include the sophisticated and undetectable methods of psychological and physical "interrogation" and harassment used by many regimes to deal with political opponents, trade unionists and critics in general.

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

A lesson . . . finally had to be learned by the world of the late twentieth century: torture had not died . . . Nor was it exclusively the eccentric practice of deranged and psychotic governments. . . . It was practised by Europeans upon Europeans and non-Europeans alike, in spite of legislation forbidding it and reformers intent upon exposing it. It could no longer be dismissed, written off, or ignored. The lesson was sobering, and the answer to its questions have not yet been found.

Edward Peters, Torture, 1985

Torture has long been employed by well-meaning, even reasonable people armed with the sincere belief that they are preserving civilization as they know it. . . . It arouses little protest as long as the definition of the torturable class is confined to the lower orders; the closer it gets to one's own door, the more objectionable it becomes.

John Conroy, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, 2000

[A] 260-page document describes the cases of people who reportedly were subjected to physical and mental torture in 82 countries around the world. [The report to the UN Human Rights Commission by Nigel Rodley, a UN special investigator] methodically works its way through the alphabet of nations starting with Afghanistan and ending with Zimbabwe. No country is spared. Not even rich, highly developed countries escape mention, including Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States.

Lisa Schlein, Voice of America, 4/6/2000

The United States can do much more than speak out against torture. We can stop training and financial support for torture, and I would ask Americans to continue to urge upon the Congress and the Administration support for that position.

Senator James Abourezk (D-SD), Letter to the Editor, NY Times, 7/4/1974

The use of torture by the Honduran army under U.S. guidance was not an aberration but a matter of policy. Until 1992, the last year of Dick Cheney's stint as Secretary of Defense, the U.S. Army used CIA-prepared torture manuals to train foreign military officers both at the School of the Americas and on-site in Latin America.

Joel Bleifuss, "Déjà Violence," In These Times, 6/21/2004

In an undisciplined attempt to wring statements out of any conceivable suspect, American officials have worked with countries like Saudi Arabia, a nation whose attitude toward human rights is deplorable, and Syria, which is counted by Washington as a state sponsor of terrorism. And now these officials are faced with the problem of what to do with these prisoners, most of whom have proved to be no use to interrogators, but who remain on America's conscience.

Editorial, "The Case of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali," NY Times, 2/24/2005

If the United States wishes to encourage greater respect for human rights in the world, it must set a good example. . . . At a time when our country is calling Cuba an outpost of tyranny and demanding that it release political prisoners, our own abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo puts the shoe on the other foot. One can imagine the Cubans asking, "Are we to do as you say, or as you do?"

Wayne Smith, Center for International Policy, Letter to Editor, NY Times 2/16/2005

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