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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3. The purpose of torture

Torture has been used in the past as a means of extracting false or true confessions from malefactors, imagined or real, for compelling men and women to acknowledge or to disavow God Almighty and the Church, and for making witnesses bear false testimony against accused persons. . . . Methods of torture . . . were devilish in conception, extremely cruel in application and were applied to millions of unfortunate men and women.
Edwin J. Henri, Methods of Torture and Execution, 1966

Punishment of prisoners

We routinely treat prisoners in the United States like animals. We brutalize and degrade them, both men and women. . . . Very few Americans have raised their voices in opposition to our shameful prison policies. And I'm convinced that's primarily because the inmates are viewed as less than human.

Bob Herbert, "America's Abu Ghraibs," NY Times Op Ed, 5/31/2004

Torture is a vile and depraved invasion of the rights and dignity of an individual, a crime against humanity, for which there can be no possible justification. Or can there? . . . The official justification . . . has always been the need to obtain information: from a criminal . . . from a prisoner taken in war . . . from a heretic. . . or from a terrorist . . . Sadly, the application of torture in such instances, in itself inexcusable, has been overshadowed by the fact that it is regarded also as a punishment.

Brian Innes, The History of Torture, 1998

Naming names

Victims will, through the power of torture -- all the tortures that lie before them and fear of torture itself -- come to do evil, to name names. . . . Finally, in their torment, innocence will not matter to them, their own or that of anyone they are forced or enabled to implicate through lies. Truth itself will not matter, just as it has never mattered to the interrogator working for quotas, since lies are the product of torture.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

They continued asking me questions, constantly the same ones: accomplices, addresses, meeting places. . . . . What they wanted to hear from me in Breendonk, I simply did not know myself. If instead of the aliases I had been able to name the real names . . . probably . . . I would be standing here now as the weakling I most likely am, and as the traitor I potentially already was. Yet . . . I talked. I accused myself of invented absurd political crimes, and even now I don't know at all how they could have occurred to me.

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

Political repression

The use of torture as a political weapon, enforced through state policy and administered by means of the law . . . raises . . . fundamental problems for the people of the world as a whole, and indicates a new responsibility. . . . It is part of mankind's long struggle to lift itself out of the primal swamps and to shape a civilization that permits the full flowering of the human spirit.

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

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

How does the state come by its powers [to torture]? Through its monopoly on force and its capacity to incarcerate. Therefore it has always had them, relinquished them only after long campaigns of agitation produced certain restraints which eventually curtailed them. But only for a while, since vigilance is the price of this type of freedom.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment harms individuals, sends a message of fear and intimidation to prisoners and members of minority political, ethnic, religious and belief groups, and undermines state legitimacy.

U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), 11/17/1999

Granted, the torture of prisoners under Saddam Hussein was incomparably more widespread and often ended in death. The same is true in dozens of other regimes around the world. But torture is torture. It permanently scars the victim even when there are no visible marks on the body, and it leaves other scars on the lives of those who perform it and on the life of the nation that allowed and encouraged it. Those scars will be with us for a long time.

Adam Hochschild, "What's in a Word? Torture," NY Times Op Ed, 5/23/2004

Religious conformity

No organization looms larger in the history of torture than the Inquisition . . . . With the right to arrest and interrogate whomsoever they chose, the Inquisition's authority quickly outstripped that of local bishops and clergy. And, like all great institutions, it was in no hurry to surrender any of its accumulated powers. . . . Who can tell how closely the Inquisition adhered to the strict regulations supposedly governing its use of torture? Our experience of human nature suggests that, once granted, such licence is only too readily abused.

Michael Kerrigan, The Instruments of Torture, 2001

The word "Inquisition" means "inquiry" and all modern courts of law are inquisitions. The Holy Inquisition was a court set up by the Church of Rome to inquire into cases of heresy, though its use was later extended to include such crimes as witchcraft and ecclesiastical offences committed by members of the Church.

John Swain, The Pleasures of the Torture Chamber, 1931

The resources for procuring unwilling confession, at command of the inquisitor, may be roughly divided into two classes -- deceit and torture, the latter comprehending both mental and physical pain, however administered. Both classes were resorted to freely and without scruple, and there was ample variety to suit the idiosyncrasies of all judges and prisoners.

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

The whole inquisitorial system, from the moment anyone was unfortunate enough to fall into its clutches, until released by banishment or death, constituted one long torment.

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

Racial/ethnic "superiority"

Many civilizations used a perverse rationale for torture: The victims were seen as less than fully "human," and thus could be treated inhumanely. Courts in ancient Greece, for example, prohibited torture of free citizens -- but would trust the testimony of a slave only if it had been secured by torture.

Irving R. Kaufman, "A Legal Remedy for International Torture?" NY Times Magazine, 11/9/80

In the American States . . . the law was so constituted that slave-owners had . . . a good deal of latitude in the matter of punishment. Like all laws made by one section of society for imposition upon another subservient section having neither the right to take a hand in the making of them nor the power to resist them when made, these laws were unilateral, unjust and noxious. They were deliberately made to aid the exploitation of one party by the other.

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

The history of torture among the Indians does not commence till after the arrival of the white races in America, as, previous to this, enemies not killed in battle were adopted into the tribe and in very rare instances tortured. No tortures were used by the Indians, even in the later days, other than those which had been used on them by the Spaniards.

John Swain, The Pleasures of the Torture Chamber, 1931

We know now that it is not a question of punishing or re-educating certain individuals, and that the Algerian war cannot be humanised. Torture was imposed here by circumstances and demanded by racial hatred. In some ways it is the essence of the conflict and expresses its deepest truth.

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

The first victims of torture in Algeria were Arabs, less-than-human "others" . . . indigenous to the colonialized [French] territory.

Edward Peters, Torture, 1985

The torturers . . . want to convince themselves and their victims of their invincible power: sometimes they present themselves as supermen who have other men at their mercy, and sometimes as men, strong and severe, who have been entrusted with the most obscene, ferocious, and cowardly of animals, the human animal.

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

The lesson in the images . . . of Abu Ghraib prison abuse is not that they reveal the depravity of American whites . . . but that we are all capable of horrendous acts toward demonized "others."

Salim Muwakkil, "Dungeons and Demons," In These Times, 6/21/2004

We were pretty much told that they [prisoners in Afghanistan] were nobodies, that they were just enemy combatants. I think that giving them the distinction of soldier would have changed our attitudes toward them. A lot of it was based on racism, really. We called them hajis, and that psychology was really important.

A member of the 377th Military Police Company, quoted by Douglas Jehl and Andrea Elliott, "Cuba Base Sent Its Interrogators To Iraqi Prison," NY Times, 5/29/2004


The military government that ruled Greece for more than seven years regularly inflicted physical and mental torture on its political prisoners. . . . Torture was conducted by the security police . . . and the military police. The purpose at first seemed to be getting information. But the torture was additionally meant to intimidate those who suffered it and those who heard about it.

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

The lessons of my torture didn't stick; I was supposed to have learned that I am powerless, that nothing I say or do can stop the torture. I was supposed to have learned despair. But I can't help hoping. I have faith in the unexpected, the miraculous, the power of people working together and of God working through us. I have to offer all I have and believe and hope it's enough. And I do.

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


The pillory and the stocks . . . represent variations of one principle: that of exposing the culprit to public degradation. Although, in many cases, confinement [on] either . . . could not be said to involve torture. . . . The prisoner was not only helpless, but he was at the mercy of anyone who wished to injure or humiliate him.

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

It is a bitter and tragic fact that, for the Europeans in Algeria, being a man means first and foremost superiority to the Moslems. . . . The need is . . . to humiliate them, to crush their pride and drag them down to animal level. The body may live, but the spirit must be killed. . . . Therefore, they are undressed; they are beaten; they are mocked; soldiers come and go, proffering insults and threats with a nonchalance which they want to make as terrible as possible.

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

Nudity is considered particularly shameful in Muslim culture, a violation of religious principles. While nudity as a disciplinary or coercive tool may be especially objectionable to Muslims, they are hardly the only victims of the practice. Soldiers in Nazi Germany paraded naked prisoners in daylight, and human rights groups have documented the use of nudity during conflicts in Egypt, Chile, and Turkey, and in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Central Intelligence Agency training manuals from the 1960's and 1980's taught the stripping of prisoners as an interrogation tool.

Kate Zernike and David Rohde, "Forced Nudity of Iraqi Prisoners Is Seen as a Pervasive Pattern, Not Isolated Incidents," NY Times, 6/8/2004

It is a shame to have foreigners break down their doors. It is a shame for them to have foreigners stop and search their women. It is a shame for the foreigners to put a bag over their heads, to make a man lie on the ground with your shoe on his neck. This is a great shame, you understand? This is a great shame for the whole tribe. . . . The shame is a stain, a dirty thing; they have to wash it. No sleep -- we cannot sleep until we have revenge.

A Fallujan, quoted in Mark Danner, "Torture and Truth," The New York Review of Books, 6/10/2004

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