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Torture and Democracy

Darius Rejali

This is the most comprehensive, and most comprehensively chilling, study of modern torture yet written. Darius Rejali, one of the world's leading experts on torture, takes the reader from the late nineteenth century to the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, from slavery and the electric chair to electrotorture in American inner cities, and from French and British colonial prison cells and the Spanish-American War to the fields of Vietnam, the wars of the Middle East, and the new democracies of Latin America and Europe. As Rejali traces the development and application of one torture technique after another in these settings, he reaches startling conclusions. As the twentieth century progressed, he argues, democracies not only tortured, but set the international pace for torture.
Dictatorships may have tortured more, and more indiscriminately, but the United States, Britain, and France pioneered and exported techniques that have become the lingua franca of modern torture: methods that leave no marks. Under the watchful eyes of reporters and human rights activists, low-level authorities in the world's oldest democracies were the first to learn that to scar a victim was to advertise iniquity and invite scandal. Long before the CIA even existed, police and soldiers turned instead to 'clean' techniques, such as torture by electricity, ice, water, noise, drugs, and stress positions.
As democracy and human rights spread after World War II, so too did these methods. Rejali makes this troubling case in fluid, arresting prose and on the basis of unprecedented research – conducted in multiple languages and on several continents – begun years before most of us had ever heard of Osama bin Laden or Abu Ghraib. The author of a major study of Iranian torture, Rejali also tackles the controversial question of whether torture really works, answering the new apologists for torture point by point. A brave and disturbing book, this is the benchmark against which all future studies of modern torture will be measured.

Table of Contents

Preface xv
Acknowledgments xix
Introduction 1
Historical Claims 3
Puzzles and Cautions 5
The Priority of Public Monitoring 8
Variations among States 11
Variations within States 15
National Styles of Stealth Torture 16
Torture and Democracy 21
Does Torture Work? 23
Who Cares? 25
Part I: Torture and Democracy 33

Chapter 1: Modern Torture and Its Observers 35
Defining Torture 36
Monitoring Torture 39

Chapter 2: Torture and Democracy 45
The National Security Model 46
The Juridical Model 49
The Civic Discipline Model 55
Hell Is in the Details 60
Part II: Remembering Stalinism and Nazism 65
Introduction 67

Chapter 3: Lights, Heat, and Sweat 69
Sweating and Stealth in America 70
British Psychological Techniques 74
Interrogation Elsewhere in Europe 76
Sweating and Stealth in Russia 79
The Spread of the Russian Style 83
Remembering Pavlov 87

Chapter 4: Whips and Water 91
Labussie're's List 92
Documenting Nazi Torture 93
Torture in Germany 95
Torture in Nazi-Occupied Europe 97
Remembering the War 104

Chapter 5: Bathtubs 108
Masuy's Bathtub 109
Marty's Magneto 111
The French Gestapo and Electric Torture 112
The Decline of Sweating and Stealth 115
The German Gestapo and Modern Torture 117
Remembering Nuremberg 117
The Search for Electric Torture 118

Part III: A History of Electric Stealth 121

Chapter 6: Shock 123
The AC/DC Controversy and the Electric Chair 124
The Mystery of Electric Death 126
Early Police Devices 128
The Mystery of Shock 132
Early Medical Devices 135
Transmitting Shock 138
Later Medical Devices 139
Remembering the Animals 141

Chapter 7: Magnetos 144 What Is a Magneto? 145
Indochina, 1931 146
Out of Indochina 149
Korea, 1931 150
Out of Korea 152
The Lost History of the Magneto 155
French and British Electrotorture after World War II 157 
The Colonial Police and Wuillaume's List 160
The Triumph of the Ge?ge'ne 161
Algeria, 1960 163
Remembering the Gestapo 165

Chapter 8: Currents 167
South Vietnamese Torture 170
Vietnam, 1968 172
Bell Telephone Hour 174
Out of Vietnam Again 178
Variation within the French Style 183
Cattle Prods 185
The Electric Cornucopia 186
Remembering Vietnam 188

Chapter 9: Singing the World Electric 190
When Electrotorture Was New 190
Explaining Clean Electrotorture 194
Crafting Electrotorture 197
Surging Forward 201
The Americas 203
Middle East and North Africa 207
Asia 209
Sub-Saharan Africa 211
Europe and Central Asia 214
Explaining the Surge 216
Remembering the Cold War 222

Chapter 10: Prods, Tasers, and Stun Guns 225
Electric Utopia 225
Electric-Free Protest 227
Stun Technology 229
Covering America 230
Remembering Eutopia 237

Chapter 11: Stun City 239
Magneto Torture in Chicago 240
Stun and Torture 242
Tasers and Torture 245
Burning Issues 248
Stun and Democracy 249
But No One Died 252
Civic Shock 253
Welcome to Stun City 255 
Part IV: Other Stealth Traditions 259
Introduction 261

Chapter 12: Sticks and Bones 269
Clean Whipping 269
Paddles 271
Beating Feet 273
Remembering Slaves and Sailors 277

Chapter 13: Water, Sleep, and Spice 279
Pumping 280
Choking 281
Showers and Ice 285
Salt and Spice 287
Deprivation of Sleep 290
Remembering the Inquisition 292

Chapter 14: Stress and Duress 294
Great and Lesser Stress Traditions 295
British Stress Tortures 296
French Stress Tortures 301
American Stress Tortures 306
Authoritarian Adaptations 311
Remembering the Eighteenth Century 314

Chapter 15: Forced Standing and Other Positions 316
Old Users after the War 317
Positional Tortures in the Communist World 322
Positional Tortures in the Non-Communist World 324
The Universal Distributor Hypothesis Revisited 329
Remembering the Hooded Men 332

Chapter 16: Fists and Exercises 334
Clean Beating 335
Adapting "the Necktie" 341
Exhaustion Exercises 342
Remembering the Grunts and the Cops 345

Chapter 17: Old and New Restraints 347
Bucking (the Parrot's Perch) 347
The Crapaudine 349
Standing Handcuffs 350
Sweatboxes 351
Adapting Old Restraints 353
The Shabeh 354
Remembering the Allied POWs 357

Chapter 18: Noise 360
Low-Technology Noise 360
High-Technology Noise 363
The CIA and Sensory Deprivation Boxes 368
Beyond the Laboratory 371
Principles and Guinea Pigs 373
Remembering Evil 384

Chapter 19: Drugs and Doctors 385
Police and Drugs 386 
The CIA and Drugs 388
The Decline of Pharmacological Torture 390
Soviet Pharmacological Torture 392
Communist Pyschoprisons 394
Lines of Defense 397
Remembering the Prison Doctors 401

Part V Politics and Memory 403

Chapter 20: Supply and Demand for Clean Torture 405
Historical Claims 406
The Priority of Public Monitoring 409
Variations among and within States 414
National Styles of Stealth Torture 419
The Strength of Low Technology 423
The Power of Whispers 426
Why Styles Change 434
Disciplinary Interventions 439
The Demand for Torture 444

Chapter 21: Does Torture Work? 446
Can Torture Be Scientific? 447
Can Torture Be Restrained? 450
Does Technology Help? 453
Can Torture Be Professionally Conducted? 454
Works Better Than What? 458
Is Anything Better Than Nothing? 460
How Well Do Interrogators Spot the Truth? 463
How Well Do Cooperative Prisoners Remember? 466
How Good Is the Intelligence Overall? 469
Even When Time Is Short? 474
Remembering the Questions 478

Chapter 22: What the Apologists Say 480
Remembering the Battle of Algiers 481
Information in the Battle of Algiers 482
French Interrogation Units 485
Coerced Information in the Algerian War 487
Saving Innocents, Losing Wars 492
Gestapo Stories 493
Stories from the Resistance 495
CIA Stories 500
The Interrogation of Al Qaeda 503
Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo 508
Afghanistan 511
Testimonial Literature from Other Conflicts 513
Remembering Abu Ghraib 518

Chapter 23: Why Governments Don't Learn 519
How Knowledge Does Not Accumulate 520
How Knowledge Is Not Analyzed 521
How Torture Warrants Might Help 523
Regulating Torture 526
Variations in Regulative Failure 529
Stealth and the Regulation of Torture 532
How Knowledge Does Not Matter 533
Remembering the Soldiers 535 

Chapter 24: The Great Age of Torture in Modern Memory 537
The Great Rift 538
The Architecture of Amnesia 540
The Designs of Genius 542
Demons in the City 543
Algerian Souvenirs 545
Caring for the Memories 550
A: A List of Clean Tortures 553
B: Issues of Method 557
C: Organization and Explanations 566
D: A Note on Sources for American Torture during the Vietnam War 581
Notes 593
Selected Bibliography 781
Index 819

About the Author

Darius Rejali is professor of political science at Reed College and an internationally recognized expert on modern torture. He is the author of "Torture and Modernity: Self, Society, and State in Modern Iran".


Darius Rejali has written a superb genealogy of modern torture. Meticulously researched and filled with surprising insights, Rejali's indictment derives its power from thoughtful analysis and deep historical grounding. It is the best book on the subject that I have encountered. No one should debate the merits of torture without having read it. — Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch Darius Rejali has given the world an extraordinary work of scholarship and personal passion that no one wants to hear about but that everyone must learn about. Torture and Democracy exposes the core issues facing every nation whose deepest values of human dignity are defiled by its state-sanctioned 'violence workers.' Beyond platitudes, this pioneering expert descends into the torture dungeons around the world to reveal the strategies and tactics secretly used to break human will to resist. A vital book for anyone wanting to understand the whys and hows of torture being practiced today by our own government. — Philip Zimbardo, author of "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil" Monumental. Definitive. Devastating. — Sidney Blumenthal Torture and Democracy brings the fact of torture straight home to democratic societies–societies that are the most reluctant to acknowledge the presence of torture in their midst. Darius Rejali's theme is the appeal of stealth forms of torture in democracies, but he also illuminates the culture of disinformation, self-deluding euphemisms, and outright mythology that accompanies these kinds of torture. Rejali's research has been truly formidable. He has read more widely in more disciplines than any analyst of torture that I know of. — Edward Peters, author of "Torture" This is a timely and extraordinarily important book, an unprecedented study of torture and its technologies, and of the relationship between torture and types of political systems. The research that went into this book is beyond impressive; it is thorough beyond belief. Torture and Democracy will become a reference for anyone who wants to understand torture. Darius Rejali is to be congratulated. — Martha Huggins, Tulane University Torture and Democracy is a provocative, state-of-the-art consideration of what Rejali calls 'stealth' or 'clean' torture. He makes a powerful case that democracies tend to be laboratories for these forms of torture and that one of the unintended consequences of democratization is that torture, rather than being eliminated, becomes harder to identify and document. — Austin Sarat, Amherst College


Review comments:

Rejali's approach is to track the different behaviors, trends and traditions in torture throughout history to see who influenced whom and what they did…Rejali, a leading expert on government interrogation techniques, reaches key conclusions. First, monitoring by human rights groups doesn't stop torture, it simply causes torturers to resort to techniques that don't scar…Second, most contemporary torture traditions were passed on like crafts from teacher to apprentice…Third, Rejali writes, a person being tortured is likely to say whatever he thinks his captors want to hear, making it one of the poorest methods of gathering reliable information. — Laurel Maury, Los Angeles Times

Torture and Democracy immediately lays claim to be the most compendious and the most rigorous treatment of the subject yet written. Saul Bellow used to say that we are constantly looking for the book it is necessary to read next. On torture, this is it…Torture and Democracy is the anatomy of sneaky. Rejali regales us with tales of every technique of torture known to man…Rejali's analysis of efficacy is exemplary: at once prudent and trenchant, historically alert and morally sentient. — Alex Danchev, Times Higher Education

[A] magisterial study of torture and how it has developed as a social and moral issue with a focus on developments through the last century. — Scott Horton, Harper's Magazine

An exhaustive study of…'clean tortures,' or tortures that leave no permanent scars. Electrotorture, water tortures, stress and duress positions, beating, noise, drugs and forced exercises all make an appearance. The book is a towering achievement, a serious work of social science on an urgent topic that is too frequently surrounded by assumption and myth. It should be read and disseminated widely…The book is devoted to exploding one myth in particular: that clean tortures can casually and reliably be traced to the ancients, or, failing that, to the Nazis. Rejali's provocative thesis is that most clean tortures were actually born in democracies, especially imperial Britain and France. — Michael O'Donnell, San Francisco Chronicle

Torture and Democracy is a much-needed attempt to put our discussions on a firmer historical and conceptual footing while showing us the realities of what torture is and what it does. Based on a decade of research and approximately 2,000 sources in 14 languages, Torture and Democracy is really several books in one. It is a methodical history of what Rejali calls 'clean' or 'stealth' torture (torture that leaves no marks) in the 20th century; a sociological examination of torture's relationship to democracies; a psychological exploration of torture's impact on societies and individuals; a practical consideration of torture's effectiveness; a philosophical musing on the ethics of torture and interrogation in general; an exhaustive cataloguing of tortures used throughout the ages; and what Rejali calls 'a reliable sourcebook' for those who speak out against torture anywhere. — Michael McGregor, The Oregonian

[Creates] what essentially amounts to an epidemiology of torture. Just as scientists were able to show how HIV traveled around the world by mapping the locatino and date of each outbreak of AIDS, Rejali similarly documents the global transmission of major torture techniquest by drawing up a chronology of their occurrence . . . Rejali's accomplishment–and it's a considerable one–is to lay out this vast amount of information to demonstrate patterns few had noticed before. — Brian Zabcik, American Lawyer

Documenting modern torture techniques, [Torture and Democracy] is both horrifying and compelling. The consequences of torture are always unpredictable and Rejali argues that torture fails when it's needed most–in last-minute, ticking bomb scenarios. — Karen J. Greenberg, Financial Times

Dozens of books about torture have been published over the last five years. But none compare to Torture and Democracy for its richly detailed comparative analysis, and its synthesis of historical, psychological, medical, forensic, sociological, and political information to explain what torture is, what it does to victims and perpetrators, and why and how it spreads. . . . Rejali has earned the right to speak authoritatively about the most important question of all: Does torture work? His answer, like his book, is profound, complex, and supported by a wealth of empirical detail. — Lisa Hajjar, Arab Studies Journal

Torture and Democracy, the fruit of a lifetime's study should dispel much ignorance and frequently facile assumptions about the subject. — David Bentley, World Today

Darius Rejali's Torture and Democracy, a decade in the making, will be the canonical source text for information on, and the historical confirmation of, the democratic pedigree of tortures that leave no mark. — Z. Z. Huq. "World Policy Journal

Sprawling, essential. . . . A massive dictionary of the unspeakable. — Gary Bass, Dissent

Rejali's consolidation of the available data on torture is certainly an admirable and relevant task. What is especially provocative and essential about Rejali's scholarship is that he forces readers to retreat from the minutiae of political debates surrounding torture and asks us to examine the larger contextual picture. — Shana Tabak, Democracy & Society

This book is quite simply the most authoritative study of torture ever written. Twenty-five years of painstaking research in the making, it will serve the human rights movement for decades to come. — George Hunsinger, Theology Today

The book suits well as an introduction to the topic of torture (techniques) throughout the world from the 20th century until today. . . . [T]he first two parts of the opus offer a vast amount of information on the historical and technical development of torture across many different states. — Daniela Kaschel, Journal of International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict

Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali is arguably the most impressive and most important book to be published on torture in the past few years. A monumental achievement of meticulous documentation, theoretical testing, and reasoned argumentation, it is certain to become the yardstick against which future research on torture will be measured. . . . It should be required reading for any scholar or student of torture, and more importantly, for every policy-maker and counter-terrorism practitioner considering whether torture could or should be used to deal with the current terrorist threat. — Richard Jackson, Critical Studies on Terrorism




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