To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize “the
way it really was.” (Ranke) It means to seize hold of a memory as it
flashes up at a moment of danger.
—Walter Benjamin1


24
The Great Age of Torture
in Modern Memory

The summer before I began writing this book, I spent time with a hunter in the bush north of the Alaska Range. He asked what kind of book I would be writing. I told him a history of torture techniques that left no marks. “I know what you mean, like tying a man down, pouring honey on his eyes and having ants eat them out.” No, I replied cautiously, that would leave marks. He gave it another try. “How about tying someone with drops of water falling slowly on his forehead? Now that's torture.”

The hunter offered me a remarkable lesson in modern memory. He did not know any technique I have described in this book. What the hunter remembered were tortures that lay beyond the horizons of this book. The memory of water torture came from travel books of the Far East, with chapters entitled “Chinese Horrors” and photographs of the refined Oriental cruelty.2 Death by ants belonged to stories by soldiers of the French Foreign Legion.3 Legionnaires killed their comrades rather than let them face such horrible deaths at the hands of the Berbers and the Tuaregs of the North African Rif.4

Passing from one person to another, these stories had finally made it to the hunter in the Alaskan bush in the twenty-first century.5 By this time, Chinese water torture and death by ants were legends. Occasionally, some curious torturer tried them out once.6 Typically they discovered that these techniques belonged to a different political context. Torture now is not about the ruler's pleasure, his satisfaction in the suffering of his enemies, the slow madness or painful death before his eyes over weeks. What modern torturers required was some-

-537-

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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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