It was not uncommon for them to rig up a field telephone, and
put one “wire” around a finger and the other around the scrotum
and start cranking.

— D. J. Lewis, former sergeant with the U.S.
Ninth Military Police Company of the Ninth
Infantry Division, stationed at Dong Tam, 1968–691


8
Currents

Within one decade of the end of the Algerian war, magneto torture spread to Asia, Africa, South America, North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Sometimes it displaced other methods of electrotorture, and at other times, it marked the introduction of electrotorture, but in either case, it usually marked a shift in the entire torture regimen. If there was a distinctive modem style in torture, it was French modern: the field telephone magneto adapted with alligator clips, usually conjoined with water torture, either pumping (the tube, tuyau) or choking (the bathtub, baignoire). French modern was a stealthy style, one that was pioneered to avoid unwanted publicity and to create plausible deniability. In this respect, magneto torture became a marker for stealth torture wherever it went.

In the previous chapter, I showed how French forces carried magneto torture out of Vietnam to North Africa and Europe. In this chapter, I map a second route of distribution. I show how American forces carried magneto torture out of Vietnam to allied countries around the world.

As I will explain below, the South Vietnamese government tortured prisoners, and given the uniformity of techniques involved, it is not hard to conclude that this was government policy. As international attention focused on the war, South Vietnamese interrogators moved from visible techniques to stealth torture. Here they borrowed from the French colonial heritage, adapting techniques used by the French Sûreté in the 1930s and again by the French army in the 1940s and 1950s. After their arrival in Vietnam, some American interrogators also tortured and sought to leave no marks, especially as U.S. military monitoring for torture increased in the late 1960s. Interrogators adapted old techniques from

-167-

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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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