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Introduction An overview of torture, outlining the physical and mental techniques used from the classical era to the twenty-first century. "At its most sophisticated, torture engages as much with the mind and imagination as with the body, and the torturer who manages to divine and realise his victim's secret fears has the most effective possible tool for ensuring his or her cooperation." 1. Under Lock and Key At what point does imprisonment become torture? Solitary confinement, the public mockery of the pillory, the stocks and Chinese death cages. Torture by other prisoners and prison guards. 2. Stretching and Suspension From the rack as medieval and Renaissance torture weapon to the alleged current Pakistani security limb-dislocating practice of cheera. 3. Applying Pressure "Pressed to plead" - Many elaborate implements have been invented to hold, squeeze and slowly squash victims. 4. Trial by Fire From fire used as theological symbolism of a person's pact with the Devil, to more recent cigarette burns, molten polythene and claims that people are still boiled to death in Uzbekistan. 5. Water Torture Cold showers, ducking stools and drinking by force has been used around the world through time, while the logic of drowning has changed over the years: sometimes the guilty was supposed to sink, while if a witch floated she was guilty, and if she sank she was innocent, but might just have a chance at being dragged to safety. 6. Forces of Nature How horses in Arabia have been used to drag victims and tear limbs, while elephants in India have crushed victims' heads; in Europe rats, cats and dogs have been goaded to attack prisoners, while in Pinochet's Chile it was alleged that victims had been dragged through thorns by helicopter, and in Pakistan prisoners have reported being covered in sugar solutions to attract stinging insects. 7. Beating Beating can be as simple but also be taken to more elaborate levels with the use of rubber truncheons which do not show any marks but cause internal damage. Or there's the Haitian 'twin-slap', in which a victim's ears are boxed simultaneously, thus threatening to burst an ear drum. Then there's flogging, beating the soles of the feet and, still recently in practice in Turkey, dangling the victim from ceiling fans. 8. Cutting and Piercing Does the punishment fit the crime? In 8th century Byzantium adulterous couples were supposed to have their noses slit, while Emperor Caligua ordered death by a thousand small cuts, so that the victims could feel themselves dying. In Saudi Arabia hands of convicted thieves are still amputated. 9. Shock Tactics France led the way in developing electricity as a method of torture. From Algeria, Latin America then took up electricity and electric shock therapy, and there are claims that electric drills were used in Baghdad in 2005. 10. Mental Cruelty Manipulation of fear has been integral to the act of torture as physical pain, hence the tradition of allowing the victim to view the executioner's equipment. Fear through mock executions can break down a prisoner, while the twentieth century saw more subtle, psychological tricks come into play, as well as recent claims post 9-11 that psychoactive drugs have been used. 11. Capital Punishment From crucifixions and impalings to the shift from guillotines and public hangings to private executions of the electric chair, lethal injection and the gas chamber. Epilogue An End to Torture? The well established western consensus against torture has been weakened since the start of the War on Terror by allegations made against the US and UK concerning Guanta namo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and claims that other western countries are cooperating in extraordinary renditions. Index
Michael Kerrigan was educated at St. Edward's College and University College, Oxford, England. He is the author of The History of Death, A Dark History: The Roman Emperors, Ancients In Their Own Words, World War II Plans That Never Happened, and American Presidents: A Dark History. He is a columnist, book reviewer, and feature writer for publications including the Scotsman and the Times Literary Supplement. Michael Kerrigan lives with his family in Edinburgh.