(1) Il faut que la torture soit propre. “Torture must be clean.”
—Lecture notes, French reserve officer, 19591


7
Magnetos

The gégène is an army signals magneto, used for communication purposes and also for torture. In the late 1950s, this word became notorious in France and Algeria. The termgégéneur, one who operates this device, became synonymous with torturer. However, electric torture by magneto began long before Algeria. As one French historian remarks, “The 'gégéneurs' of Algeria invented nothing. In the 1930s, beneath the tropics, in the shelter of the French flag, all the degrading methods existed just fine.”2

In this chapter, I document the history of magneto torture in the early twentieth century. I focus primarily on the French policing system between 1920 and 1965, when stealthy magneto torture was routine. From the start, French torturers took care to keep torture clean, which is to say, leave few marks. I also consider and seek to explain the behavior of the Japanese Kempeitai, the Hungarian police, and the British colonial police in Kenya during this period. They also favored magneto torture, but their use was not stealthy.

French police institutionalized electric torture in Vietnam during the 1930s. After documenting this history, I follow the trail of magneto torture out of Vietnam, first to France in World War II, then back to Vietnam in 1949, and then to Algeria in the 1950s, and finally back to Paris in the 1960s.

This trajectory of magneto torture is thought-provoking. A colonial technique found its way into domestic policing, traveling to France from Vietnam, not once, but twice. Nor will this be the last time a foreign army carries magneto torture out of Vietnam, as I will show in the next chapter. Let us consider first the magneto in the early twentieth century.

-144-

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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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