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Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People
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John Conroy is a staff writer for the Chicago Reader and the author of Belfast Diary: War as a Way of Life. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other publications.

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How is it that otherwise normal people can become part of the institutionalized practice of torture? That's the question driving this unusual, extremely well-reported book. At the Chicago Reader, Conroy spent years reporting on the kind of torture that happens not in exotic locales but in his own backyard--in Chicago's police precincts. Curious and troubled by what he found, he decided to explore the ordinariness of brutality through three separate incidents of torture--in Israel, Ireland and Chicago. He investigates the "five torture techniques" (hooding, noise bombardment, food deprivation, sleep deprivation and forced standing against a wall) inflicted on 12 Irish prisoners in 1971; a late 1980s round-up on the West Bank of Palestinians, who were bound, gagged and beaten; and Chicago's notorious John Burge case, in which police officers systematically beat and electrocuted (on the head, chest and genitals) a man suspected (and later convicted) of killing a police officer. In all three cases, although the torture was well documented, little or no punishment was handed down. Conroy does an excellent job reconstructing these events in a manner that reveals the presence of torture in everyday society. He's more a reporter than a critic, however; his brief attempt to theorize on why ordinary people become either torturers or silent witnesses to torture rehashes already well-known studies and fails to offer any new insights. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

"A Chicago journalist's gripping, disturbing inquiry into torture and human nature."--"Chicago Tribune

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