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Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People


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About the Author

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.


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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