2
Torture and Democracy

The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are
“still” possible in the 20th century is not philosophical. This
amazement is not the beginning of knowledge—unless it is the
knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.

—Walter Benjamin1

As a matter of historical record, torture has characterized democratic as well as authoritarian states. Greek and Roman city-states, Renaissance republics, and modern democratic states have all practiced torture. Of course, I am not claiming that the democratic record is as bad as that of authoritarian states—it is not. Some democratic states have not tortured at all, and some democracies that have tortured have done so intermittently at particular times and places. Still, there is no getting around the fact that some democratic states have legalized torture, treated it as a quasi-legal investigative procedure, or practiced it routinely on the quiet, despite a formal ban. The question then is, how is this possible?

Democracy is a form of government based on amateurism (citizens rule in turn by means of lots or elections in a free choice among competitors) and participation (a significant segment of the society has access to these means). In authoritarian states, by contrast, leaders are self-appointed, or if they were elected, impossible to displace afterward. These leaders typically justify their rule by some claim other than amateurism, most commonly bureaucratic or military expertise, moral and religious authority, or their unique personal qualities such as character or descent. While some authoritarian leaders may allow participation in various national referenda, these electoral processes are highly constrained or the outcomes predetermined.

These fairly simple distinctions are sufficient to pose a puzzle.2 One would not be surprised if authoritarian states used torture; autocratic leaders have an unfortunate habit of being less than benign when it comes to dealing with those who oppose them. But we tend to assume that democracy and torture could

-45-

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Torture and Democracy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xv
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • Torture and Democracy xxv
  • Introduction 1
  • I - Torture and Democracy 33
  • 1: Modern Torture and Its Observers 35
  • 2: Torture and Democracy 45
  • II - Remembering Stalinism and Nazism 65
  • 3: Lights, Heat, and Sweat 69
  • 4: Whips and Water 91
  • 5: Bathtubs 108
  • III - A History of Electric Stealth 121
  • 6: Shock 123
  • 7: Magnetos 144
  • 8: Currents 167
  • 9: Singing the World Electric 190
  • 10: Prods, Tasers, and Stun Guns 225
  • 11: Stun City 239
  • IV - Other Stealth Traditions 259
  • 12: Sticks and Bones 269
  • 13: Water, Sleep, and Spice 279
  • 14: Stress and Duress 294
  • 15: Forced Standing and Other Positions 316
  • 16: Fists and Exercises 334
  • 17: Old and New Restraints 347
  • 18: Noise 360
  • 19: Drugs and Doctors 385
  • V - Politics and Memory 403
  • 20: Supply and Demand for Clean Torture 405
  • 21: Does Torture Work? 446
  • 22: What the Apologists Say 480
  • 23: Why Governments Don't Learn 519
  • 24: The Great Age of Torture in Modern Memory 537
  • 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
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