Academic journal article International Journal of Humanities and Peace

Presido Exhibition on Torture-From the Spanish Inquisition to the Present

Academic journal article International Journal of Humanities and Peace

Presido Exhibition on Torture-From the Spanish Inquisition to the Present

Article excerpt

San Francisco -- A guillotine, a "knee splitter" and a spiked chair from the Spanish Inquisition are among more than 100 instruments of torture displayed in the first U.S. exhibit of gruesome tools used by authorities since the 1500s to subjugate their people.

Not all the instruments on view in the Herbst International Exhibition Hall at the Presido of San Francisco are relics of our medieval past. Some have been used in recent years.

Human rights groups hope visitors will take away not only the reality that many of the exhibit's instruments are the originals used to humiliate, torture and kill, but that other--undetectable--forms of torture are still used today. Beating, electric shock, water submersion and rape are several common contemporary methods.

"Torture still exists and is being used in 150 countries around the world," said Cosette Thompson, western regional director of Amnesty International USA, "Half of these use it in fairly systematic manner. This is not isolated."

While there are no numbers estimating how many people are tortured each year, deaths have occurred recently as a result of such treatment in more than 80 countries, Amnesty International says. "I think it's atrocious," said visitor Jeanine Gore, covering her mouth as she peered into a glass case enclosing tow medieval iron chastity belts--one lined with sharp teeth--designed to "protect" women from sexual encounters. "It seems like there was a great hatred against women." Gore, who brought her 10-year-old brother along from Half Moon Bay, said the exhibition forced her to think about worldwide emery as she wandered through the dungeon-like atmosphere with monks chanting in somber tones. The one instrument she couldn't stomach was a tool still commonly found in American sheds and garages--the two-handed crosscut saw.

As shown in engravings and paintings, the saw was used to torture homosexuals. It also was widely used to kill people for crimes ranging from witchcraft to military disobedience.

"There were some sick people back then, and from what you hear, everybody got a kick out of it," said Joe Duffy of Hollywood, Fla. "Who engineered this stuff?" Duffy and his 13-year-old son, Michael Harding, were particularly taken by the nails and needles once poked through the tongues of those who uttered curse words or blasphemous statements.

Medieval authorities put a lot of though and work into devising the torture devices, many of which were designed specifically to torture women, said exhibit curator Aldo Migliorini, from the Criminal Medieval Museum of San Gimignano near Siena, Italy. …

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