Torture in law, literature and the media
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Readings on torture

Literary perspectives on torture

From Kafkaesque to Orwellian

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s ongoing public defense of “enhanced interrogation methods” bears ironic resemblance to two literary critiques of language and torture by Franz Kafka and George Orwell.

In the Penal Colony

“‘It’s a remarkable apparatus,’” said the Officer to the Explorer and gazed with a certain look of admiration at the device ..." So begins Franz Kafka's harrowing and ironic story of torture and execution. Original auf deutsch.

‘Is it safe?’ – from fiction to fact

A declassified CIA document indicates that CIA operatives threatened detainees with the same weapon employed by the fictional character, Nazi war criminal Dr. Christian Szell, who uses a power drill on the character played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1976 film, Marathon Man.

Capt. Kirk on torture

“The Federation doesn't kill or mistreat its prisoners.”
— Star Trek, The Original Series, Season 3, Episode 7,
“Day of the Dove”

Commentary on torture

The justifications of the torturer

Egyptian novelist Alaa Al-Aswany discusses how torturers rationalize their actions: “Two conditions are indispensable: submission and justification. Submission means the police officer carries out the torture in response to orders from his superior and convinces himself that he is compelled to obey. Justification comes about when the officer convinces himself that torture is ethically and religiously legitimate.”

Harsh interrogation: slippery slope or necessary?

University of California Professor Lisa Hajjar discusses arguments for and against the codification of harsh interrogations – and what constitutes the line between tough and torture.

‘My tortured decision’

Former F.B.I. special agent Ali Soufan describes his experience interrogating suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah, using non-coercive techniques, successfully. “There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics,” Soufan wrote in this New York Times op-ed piece.

Abu Zubaydah: A Case Study of Torture

The suspected Al Qaeda operative was subjected to waterboarding 83 times, slammed against a wall repeatedly and forced into a small box for hours. Zubaydah now suffers from brain damage. It turns out he was a minor logistics man for Al Qaeda, with little valuable information to give up. Story by Joseph Margulies of Northwestern University School of Law in the Los Angeles Times.

Religious response to torture

“I think it's vital to understand that people who oppose torture on moral grounds are not saying there are no evil people out to do us harm. There surely are. Rather, they are saying that we sink to their level when we torture them.” — Bill Tammeus, editor, “Faith Matters”

History of torture
Exporting torture

Author A.J. Langguth documents U.S. involvement in torture in Latin America since the 1960s.

From the Inquisition to us

James Mandrell of Brandeis University provides a glance of the history of torture – waterboarding in particular – from the Spanish Inquisition to modern times.

James Madison on the conduct of war

“As the war (of 1812) was just in its origin and necessary and noble in its objects, we can reflect with a proud satisfaction that in carrying it on no principle of justice or honor, no usage of civilized nations, no precept of courtesy or humanity, have been infringed. ... How little has been the effect of this example on the conduct of the enemy!”