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

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

4. The "rules" of torture

In medieval Europe, criminal law . . . rejected circumstantial evidence as inherently unreliable. "Full proof" of guilt was required -- the direct testimony of two eyewitnesses or a personal confession by the defendant. The approach was inquisitorial . . . and special tools were developed to secure confessions.
Irving R. Kaufman, "A Legal Remedy for International Torture?" NY Times Magazine, 11/9/1980

Olden days

In the administration of torture the rules adopted by the Inquisition became those of the secular courts of Christendom at large. . . . Torture should be moderate, and effusion of blood be scrupulously avoided, but then, what was moderation? Some prisoners were so weak that at the first turn of the pulleys [on the rack] they would concede anything asked them; others so obstinate that they would endure all things rather than confess the truth.

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

It is a common fallacy that torture was forbidden . . . in England. . . . Some of the forms of torture . . . were not recognized as such, but considered rather as legitimate punishment, or as a necessary part of the judicial process of inquiry. The most notorious was the peine forte et dure, or "pressing to plead," which continued in use until the late eighteenth century. When an accused was brought to trial, the law required him to plead "guilty" or "not guilty" before the case could be heard. Some persons. . . refused . . . [and] torture often succeeded in persuading the victim to plead and stand trial.

Brian Innes, The History of Torture, 1998

In 1936 . . . the Supreme Court in Brown v. Mississippi reversed the murder convictions of three black men after an angry mob, led by a deputy sheriff, had seized one of the suspects, suspended him by a rope from the limb of a tree and whipped and slashed him to extract a "confesssion." Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes . . . said that the convictions violated fundamental principles of justice. "The rack and torture chamber . . . may not be substituted for the witness stand."

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

The "third degree"

The degrees of torture used by the Spanish Inquisition have been described by Julius Glarus in the following terms: "Know therefore that there are five degrees of torture, viz: First, the being threatened to be tortured. Secondly, being carried to the place of torture. Thirdly, by stripping and binding. Fourthly, the being hoisted up on the rack. Fifthly, squassation." From these degrees of torture we get the famous third degree over which there has been so much controversy in the Press recently.

John Swain, The Pleasures of the Torture Chamber, 1931

The "third degree" method of torturing a prisoner or suspect into confessing or answering questions or giving information is based on the method used by the Spanish Inquisition and is, generally, a war of nerves on the victim, followed many times by brute force at the end of a truncheon, by deliberate starvation, a deprivation of drink, exercise, sleep and amenities to perform the natural functions.

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

In June of 1942 [in Nazi Germany] . . . Heinrich Himmler issued an order authorizing the use of what he specifically called "the Third Degree" in interrogations . . . to elicit confessions from prisoners in all cases in which preliminary investigation indicated knowledge of useful information . . . "The Third Degree in this case may be used only against communists, Marxists, Jehovah's Witnesses, saboteurs, terrorists, members of resistance movements, antisocial elements, refractory elements, or Polish or Soviet vagabonds. In all other cases, preliminary authorization is necessary."

Edward Peters, Torture, 1985

Jehovah's Witnesses suffered terrible persecution for daring to remain neutral and for refusing to serve in Hitler's war effort. Thousands were sent to the dreaded concentration camps, where many were executed and others died from mistreatment. Yet, they did not have to suffer and die. They had a choice. They were offered a way out. If they would just sign a paper renouncing their faith, they could walk away free. The vast majority chose not to sign and became not only victims of theNazi terror but also martyrs. Thus, while all martyrs are victims, only a few victims could and did choose to become martyrs. They were victorious in the face of death.

"Victims or Martyrs: What Is the Difference?" Awake!, 5/8/1993

Indefinite detention

One of the most efficient [methods] was the slow torture of delay. The prisoner . . . was remanded to his cell, and left to ponder in solitude and darkness. . . . If still obstinate . . . months would lengthen into years, perhaps years into decades, and find him still . . . a prisoner, hopeless and despairing.

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

South Africa's "90-day law" . . . makes mind-breaking and torture an officially acknowledged and ministerially approved instrument of police interrogation. The law empowers police . . . to detain persons without trial for any number of 90-day periods . . . A person so arrested can, in the words of the Minister of Justice John Vorster, be held "this side of eternity."

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

As critical as the government's interest may be in detaining those who actually pose an immediate threat to the national security of the United States during ongoing international conflict, history and common sense teach us that an unchecked system of detention carries the potential to become a means for oppression and abuse of others who do not present that sort of threat. . . . We reaffirm today the fundamental nature of a citizen's right to be free from involuntary confinement by his own government without due process of law, and we weigh the opposing governmental interests aginst the curtailment of liberty that such confinement entails.

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

At issue yesterday was Mr. Bush's claim that he can label any American an "enemy combatant" and hold him or her in prison indefinitely without trial or access to counsel. The case involved Yaser Esam Hamdi, an Amerian citizen who was taken prisoner in Afghanistan and has been held in solitary confinement in a Navy brig . . . Justice O'Connor . . . fired a warning shot at what she said was the "substantial" possibility that the administration would hold Mr. Hamdi for the rest of his life. . . . In challenging times, she said, "we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad."

Anthony Lewis, "The Court v. Bush," NY Times, 6/29/2004

The horror stories from the scandalous interrogation camp that the United States is operating at Guantánamo, Cuba, are coming to light with increased frequency. . . . It's a place where human beings can be imprisoned for life without being charged or tried, without ever seeing a lawyer, and without having their cases reviewed by a court. . . . So we are stuck for the time being with the disgrace of Guantánamo, which will forever be a stain on the history of the United States, like the internment of the Japanese in World War II.

Bob Herbert, "Stories From the Inside," NY Times Op Ed, 2/7/2005

Endless war is taken to justify endless incarcerations. . . . If interrogation is the point of detaining prisoners indefinitely, then physical coercion, humiliation and torture become inevitable.

Susan Sontag, "Regarding the Torture of Others," NY Times Magazine, 5/23/2004

Previous Contents/Top Next