- Paperback: 313 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press (September 3, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520230396
- ISBN-13: 978-0520230392
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #638,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture 0th Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is a service we offer sellers that lets them store their products in Amazon's fulfillment centers, and we directly pack, ship, and provide customer service for these products. Something we hope you'll especially enjoy: FBA items qualify for FREE Shipping and Amazon Prime.
If you're a seller, Fulfillment by Amazon can help you increase your sales. We invite you to learn more about Fulfillment by Amazon .
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
"A Chicago journalist's gripping, disturbing inquiry into torture and human nature."--"Chicago Tribune
About the Author
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
In 1975 the United Nations defined torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed, or intimidating him or other persons...Torture constitutes an aggravated and deliberate form of cruel , inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." However, as John Conroy points out in his important new study of torture, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, "the UN definition... has proved to be not so easily interpreted in court. When does pain or suffering become 'severe'?" he asks, and how do we define "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment?
This study of torture examines its practice in Ireland, Palestine and the United States, with reference to its history and to its continuing effects upon its victims and asks "what kind of person tortures another human being?" It answers this by examining the professionalisation of torture and its use as a political tool. "It became a function," he was told by a former Rhodesian torturer, "It became a part of the job. It became standard operating procedure." Conroy describes how the Greek secret police tortured recruits in order to make torturers out of them, making it easier for the torturers to dehumanize their own victims and to rationalize what they themselves were doing:
"The isolation of the recruits eliminated external points of view that might interfere with the indoctrination."
Therefore the normal limits of obedience were dissolved and serving authority became its own reality for one recruit: "Torturing became a job... If the officers ordered you to beat, you beat. If they ordered you to stop, you stopped. You never thought you could do otherwise." Conroy explains how the training of torturers is an exact science designed to project "a positive self-image" and points to a Yale study on the limits of obedience. The experiment illustrated how easily people could ignore responsibility and view themselves as a link in the chain of authority and concluded that "ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process." Conroy sees this conclusion as informative:
many people are unable to act on their values... even when it is patently clear that they are inflicting harm, relatively few people have the resources to resist authority... in view of the positive reinforcement engendered by a largely satisfied society, it is not difficult to understand how a torturer can hold on to a positive self-image... The British comforted themselves with the rationalization that their methods were nothing compared to the suffering created by the IRA. The Israelis regularly argue that their methods pale in comparison to the torture employed by the Arab states.
Conroy also points to the "infectious" nature of torture: the five techniques used against the hooded men in Ireland had been inflicted on people across the British empire, in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, British Cameroons, Brunei, British Guiana, Aden, Malaysia and the Persian Gulf. The Israeli Justice Moshe Landau, clearly impressed by the British techniques used in Ireland, established guidelines for the application of "moderate physical pressure" on Palestinian prisoners:
Landau cited the decision of the judges of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Ireland vs. the United Kingdom, the decision that determined that the five techniques were inhuman and degrading but not torture. In the years after the Landau Commission filed its report the GSS and the IDF (the Israeli secret police) had adapted the British methods wholesale
Thus the case of the hooded men, and the European Court's watered down definition of what was done to them by the British state, set an international precedent.
John Conroy met and interviewed the torturers of Palestinians at Beita and Hawara and reported on the trial that exposed the torturers of Andrew Wilson in Chicago. Ted Heath, who was British Prime Minister who during the torture of Irish internees in 1971, refused to be interviewed by the author. The hearings into their case were held in secret in the human rights building in Strasbourg. Crucially, Conroy points out that the 14 volume, 4,500 page transcript of that hearing today remains secret. The democratic government on whose behalf the torture was carried out in 1971 closed ranks in a repeated pattern that continues to this day.
John Conroy raises vital questions about the use of torture in the present and in the future. Importantly, the book acknowledges that torture still happens and it shows how it is still used by governments who have learned from its use in the past. Methods that have filtered down from Ireland and other British colonies have made their way to Palestine and the Palestinian authority's prisons: "The Soviet Union, China, and North Korea provided the inspiration for the British use of the five techniques. The British methods inspired the Israelis. Israeli methods have in turn inspired the Palestinians, who now have their own torturable class in the West Bank and Gaza." Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People is an important book because it shows that torture is not something that happens far away and that it can happen in western democracies. It provides vital information required by anyone who wants to understand the role of torture. As Conroy sums up, "(it) is always easier to see torture in another country than in one's own". As he concludes, there are no happy endings for the victims: "It seems a very small leap to argue that torture is the perfect crime. There are exceptions... but in the vast majority of cases, only the victim pays."
Although this book was published in 2000, it will be a wake up call for anyone who naively thinks think that Abu Ghraib was the work of a "few bad apples" in the U.S. Army. The "stress and duress" techniques used in Iraq -- sleep deprivation, hooding, sexual humiliation, muscle stress, etc. -- are standard operating procedures for interrogators who want to torture prisoners without leaving traces of physical abuse. As Conroy documents, these techniques were used in Northern Ireland and on the West Bank; they were also taught to Latin American soldiers by the U.S. Army and the CIA.
The only thing unique about Iraq, alas, is the fact that U.S. soldiers were stupid enough to film their own atrocities.