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Robert Fisk: Torture does not work

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    The Americans are just apeing their predecessors in the Inquisition Torture does not work, as history shows Independent [UK] Tue Feb 5, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 6, 2008
      The Americans are just apeing their predecessors in the Inquisition

      Torture does not work, as history shows
      Independent [UK]
      Tue Feb 5, 2008

      "Torture works," an American special forces major – now, needless to
      say, a colonel – boasted to a colleague of mine a couple of years ago.
      It seems that the CIA and its hired thugs in Afghanistan and Iraq
      still believe this. There is no evidence that rendition and beatings
      and waterboarding and the insertion of metal pipes into men's anuses –
      and, of course, the occasional torturing to death of detainees – has
      ended. Why else would the CIA admit in January that it had destroyed
      videotapes of prisoners being almost drowned – the "waterboarding"
      technique – before they could be seen by US investigators?

      Yet only a few days ago, I came across a medieval print in which a
      prisoner has been strapped to a wooden chair, a leather hosepipe
      pushed down his throat and a primitive pump fitted at the top of the
      hose where an ill-clad torturer is hard at work squirting water down
      the hose. The prisoner's eyes bulge with terror as he feels himself
      drowning, all the while watched by Spanish inquisitors who betray not
      the slightest feelings of sympathy with the prisoner. Who said
      "waterboarding" was new? The Americans are just apeing their
      predecessors in the inquisition.

      Anther medieval print I found in a Canadian newspaper in November
      shows a prisoner under interrogation in what I suspect is medieval
      Germany. In this case, he has been strapped backwards to the outer
      edge of a wheel. Two hooded men are administering his agony. One is
      using a bellows to encourage a fire burning at the bottom of the wheel
      while the other is turning the wheel forwards so that the prisoner's
      feet are moving into the flames. The eyes of this poor man – naked
      save for a cloth over his lower torso – are tight shut in pain. Two
      priests stand beside him, one cowled, the other wearing a robe over
      his surplice, a paper and pen in hand to take down the prisoner's words.

      Anthony Grafton, who has been working on a book about magic in
      Renaissance Europe, says that in the 16th and 17th centuries, torture
      was systematically used against anyone suspected of witchcraft, his or
      her statements taken down by sworn notaries – the equivalent, I
      suppose, of the CIA's interrogation officers – and witnessed by
      officials who made no pretence that this was anything other than
      torture; no talk of "enhanced interrogation" from the lads who turned
      the wheel to the fire.

      As Grafton recounts, "The pioneering medievalist Henry Charles Lea ...
      wrote at length about the ways in which inquisitors had used torture
      to make prisoners confess heretical views and actions. An enlightened
      man writing in what he saw as an enlightened age, he looked back in
      horror at these barbarous practices and condemned them with a clarity
      that anyone reading public statements must now envy."

      There were professionals in the Middle Ages who were trained to use
      pain as a method of enquiry as well as an ultimate punishment before
      death. Men who were to be "hanged, drawn and quartered" in medieval
      London, for example, would be shown the "instruments" before their
      final suffering began with the withdrawal of their intestines in front
      of vast crowds of onlookers. Most of those tortured for information in
      medieval times were anyway executed after they had provided the
      necessary information to their interrogators. These inquisitions –
      with details of the torture that accompanied them – were published and
      disseminated widely so that the public should understand the threat
      that the prisoners had represented and the power of those who
      inflicted such pain upon them. No destroying of videotapes here.
      Illustrated pamphlets and songs, according to Grafton, were added to
      the repertory of publicity.

      Ronnie Po-chia Hsia and Italian scholars Diego Quaglioni and Anna
      Esposito have studied the 15th-century Trent inquisition whose victims
      were usually Jews. In 1475, three Jewish households were accused of
      murdering a Christian boy called Simon to carry out the supposed
      Passover "ritual" of using his blood to make "matzo" bread. This
      "blood libel" – it was, of course, a total falsity – is still, alas,
      believed in many parts of the Middle East although it is frightening
      to discover that the idea was well established in 15th century Europe.

      As usual, the podestà – a city official – was the interrogator, who
      regarded external evidence as providing mere clues of guilt. Europe
      was then still governed by Roman law which required confessions in
      order to convict. As Grafton describes horrifyingly, once the
      prisoner's answers no longer satisfied the podestà, the torturer tied
      the man's or woman's arms behind their back and the prisoner would
      then be lifted by a pulley, agonisingly, towards the ceiling. "Then,
      on orders of the podestà, the torturer would make the accused 'jump'
      or 'dance' – pulling him or her up, then releasing the rope,
      dislocating limbs and inflicting stunning pain."

      When a member of one of the Trent Jewish families, Samuel, asked the
      podestà where he had heard that Jews needed Christian blood, the
      interrogator replied – and all this while, it should be remembered,
      Samuel was dangling in the air on the pulley – that he had heard it
      from other Jews. Samuel said that he was being tortured unjustly. "The
      truth, the truth!" the podestà shouted, and Samuel was made to "jump"
      up to eight feet, telling his interrogator: "God the Helper and truth
      help me." After 40 minutes, he was returned to prison.

      Once broken, the Jewish prisoners, of course, confessed. After another
      torture session, Samuel named a fellow Jew. Further sessions of
      torture finally broke him and he invented the Jewish ritual murder
      plot and named others guilty of this non-existent crime. Two tortured
      women managed to exonerate children but eventually, in Grafton's
      words, "they implicated loved ones, friends and members of other
      Jewish communities". Thus did torture force innocent civilians to
      confess to fantastical crimes. Oxford historian Lyndal Roper found
      that the tortured eventually accepted the view that they were guilty.

      Grafton's conclusion is unanswerable. Torture does not obtain truth.
      It will make most ordinary people say anything the torturer wants.
      Why, who knows if the men under the CIA's "waterboarding" did not
      confess that they could fly to meet the devil. And who knows if the
      CIA did not end up believing him.



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