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Torture and Democracy Hardcover – Nov 12 2007

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Powerful book looks at the history of torture in securing information, its value and cost to society Jan. 27 2008
By Wayne Klein - Published on
Format: Hardcover
To paraphrase a famous quotation, when it comes to victims of torture often are victims in countries of liberty and face death from "clean torture" such as waterboarding often in the most democractic countries. Author Darius Rejali has produced a scholarly examination of the use of torture, it's cost to society and which societies it occurs in with TORTURE AND DEMOCRACY a compelling, powerful book that isn't for the squeamish.

As Rejali points out while barbaric customs such as the severing of limbs that are caturerized with blow torches doesn't occur here,the use of waterboarding and other "enhanced" techniques (to use an almost Orwellian obfuscation of the truth)that aren't torture because we use a euphanism that robs the phrase of its true meaning and, as a result, responsibility for something inhumane, does occur here along with other inhumane practices. Ironically, using waterboarding which seems an "acceptable" form of torture today to gather information (that can often be inaccurate--there's no way to tell as no one has truly done an unbiased study looking at information gathered by non-torture and torture techniques comparing their accuracy)resulted in a Japanese officer named Yukio Asano tried for war crimes during WWII, doesn't even cause the blink of an eye in the intellgience community in the 21st century.

These "clean" forms of torture allow there to be no physical scars (although there are psychic ones that may never heal)and makes it more difficult to prove that they occurred. This creates the perfect atmosphere for denial in an open society such as a democractic one or even in a dictatorship making it more difficult for the eyes of the world to see all the victims these forms of torture claim. The proliferation of clean torture in our society has been around for a long time but it has truly taken hold in the 20th and 21st centuries having tangled roots in many different societies and cultures. No one is free of guilt and no one immune from being roped into practicing it.

This is an important book that should be read and understood by everyone that wonders about how information is gathered from those we capture in both peace and war time. Anyone can say anything when being tortured because it is human nature to want it to end which makes the results questionable and the value of any sort of torture (and the use of fear)possibly inflated. The result is physical and psychological maiming for no clear decernable benefit. TORTURE AND DEMOCRACY is a thought provoking, powerful book that calls into question some of the very techniques that we use to gather information to plan policy and military strikes.

It may be daunting but it is a necessary book to keep us as honest with ourselves and others as possible in regards to how we treat prisoners.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Depressing but Worthwhile Read Nov. 12 2009
By Guy the Gorilla - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Why are so many people, including high ranking people who should know better, so convinced that torture "works," and that it provides reliable intelligence? Do they have supporting data to back up this assertion, or is it just a gut feeling? Well, now we are just a little closer to tossing this bizarre view point to the trash heap of history. Darius Rejali, in his painstakingly researched book "Torture and Democracy," has investigated the records of numerous countries that conducted torture throughout the 20th century, including France during the Algerian uprising and the Germans during WWII. He has convincingly shown, with actual data and analysis, that torture is ineffective for intelligence gathering simply because it produces an avalanche of disinformation, making it almost impossible to separate any real intelligence from false leads.

It is clear to me that Rejali did not begin his project fifteen years ago (prior to 9/11, BTW) with any preconceived notions that he then set out to prove. As he explains, he was actually trying to find out why so many countries, including democracies (though generally in secret), resort to the tactic. His initial thought was that maybe there is something to it, since so many countries repeatedly make use of the approach as an intelligence gathering tool. It was only after conducting years of exhaustive research, thoroughly catalogued in the book, that he realized that the countries who resort to the tactic do so out of ignorance and because they fail to think through what they are doing. And it turns out that many countries, even the Nazis in Germany, eventually figure out that the approach is counter-productive, and eventually revert back to more "traditional" police methods to gather intelligence. This was the case with the French in Algeria, who did not begin to meet with success in the city of Algiers until AFTER they abandoned torture as a policy.

The bulk of the book consists of Rejali cataloguing the use of torture in dozens of countries around the world, including an explanation of the techniques and an explanation of which methods are used in which countries. At first, it makes for compelling reading, but the sheer exhaustiveness of the research, which Rejali had to present to make his case, is pretty depressing, and in truth, it's not necessary to read it all before you say - okay, okay, I get it, I get it, it doesn't work....

For those who want to take a shortcut, the chapters toward the end of the book comprise the majority of Rejali's analysis, and it is possible to skim or skip the middle chapters since the evidence against torture is provided in such relentless and eventually nauseating detail. In other words, one could save a lot of time, if they accept the initial premise that torture is an ineffective tactic, by simply going straight to the two penultimate chapters toward the end - "What the Apologists Say" (which blows big holes in the so-called "Battle of Algiers argument"),and "Why Governments Don't Learn."

I am convinced that the book should be required reading for all people in this country, both private and public citizens, who remain convinced that torture is an effective intelligence gathering tool. It should also serve as an antidote to those who have watched too many episodes of "24" and thus believe the "ticking time bomb" scenario is actually realistic.

For my part, it is depressing that no one takes the time to think this through, and that a book like this is even necessary to convince people that torture is a bad idea. The truth is that, like myself, Rejali appears to be a utilitarian, who would condone the use of torture if it could actually be shown that it is an effective means to gather intelligence in a dire situation. However - it most definitely is not. As Rejali shows again and again, the fundamental fallacy of the "torture is effective" argument is that it presumes magical telepathic powers. How does one know with certainty that the suspect we have caught really does know anything about the ticking time bomb, or where the next terrorist strike will occur, or where the kidnapped little girl is located? We may suspect that he does, but what if it turns out that we're wrong? Undoubtedly he'll start "singing" something if we torture him - but now we'll waste vital time chasing false leads if it turns out he is the wrong guy. Here's a scenario to illustrate the point further. In Iraq a bomb goes off. People gather. US troops arrive. People scatter, including what appears to be a group of ten or so young men. They actually have nothing to do with each other, they just happened to have congregated on one side of the site together. The US authorities manage to grab five of them. Turns out that someone with magic telepathic powers would know that one of the five actually was a bad guy involved with the bombing. But our intrepid torturers don't know this. They start torturing all five of the men. All five subsequently start "singing" information. In the case of four of them, it is by definition all gibberish because they really were innocent bystanders who just ran when the US showed up. Now they most certainly will provide bits and pieces of rumors and stories they've heard around town that sounds like it might have some meaning because they're naming real people and places (of course they would - they're from there) but ultimately none of it has any utility. The one "bad guy" sings too. Half of what he says is gibberish - but some of it is actually real intelligence. (This, BTW - was the problem the French ran into in Algiers, which we have been facing in Baghdad and Afghanistan.) So I challenge all people who believe "torture works" to answer this one simple question: In the above scenario, how on earth are you going to differentiate the 10% real intelligence from the 90% that is gibberish? What magic powers are you going to use to do so? Until we develop mind-reading powers, we cannot be sure whether the person we are torturing even knows anything useful, but then, if we had those kind of powers, we wouldn't have to torture him in the first place - we could just read his mind.

If only the real world worked as simply and neatly as it does in the fictional universe of "24."
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Amazingly Informative May 4 2008
By J. Mullin - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book in order to be able to shoot down any argument about why torture should be used, I wasn't disappointed. Though, it is not an easy read, so make sure to give the book the attention and breaks it deserves in order to digest all the information presented. It is dense but well worth the read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Depressing but valuable Aug. 24 2010
By ewaffle - Published on
Format: Paperback
A depressing although valuable book that shows how "clean" torture techniques--those that don't leave visible scars or physically incapacitate the victim--have been the hallmark of torturers in the military and police forces in democratic nations.

Rejali documents the use of psychological torture, waterboarding and other clean methods by France, the UK, the United States and other non-totalitarian/non-authoritarian nations. In the western European countries it started with interrogations in colonies--the UK against the Mau Mau in Kenya and the insurgents in Malaysia during the "emergency" and the French in Vietnam and Algeria. Many of the oligarchs of Latin America took their methods from France.

This is almost a reference book of "clean" torture history and usage with chapters the cover how attitudes and procedures evolved in local practice--cattle prods in Argentina, hooding and sleep deprivation in Northern Ireland, drugs in areas controlled by the United States. With chapters on complicit doctors, apologists for torture and evolving refinement of use of electricity, water and fear it is a grim but important book.

The ray of light that shines through is the efficacy of local, national and international monitoring by the press, the judiciary and non-government organizations in staying the hand of torturers. Put simply, they can't afford to be exposed and caught which is why the stealth techniques have become characteristic of torture in open societies.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A sweeping, encyclopedic work Aug. 12 2009
By Eric Faulk - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Torture and Democracy serves several functions, some academic and others pragmatic. The essential claim of the work challenges the classical notion that only autocratic governments torture their constituents. Instead, T&D proposes that democratic governments develop covert, non-scarring (or "clean") torture techniques in order to circumvent the proliferation of torture-monitoring human rights groups. This hypothesis has recently gained credence with the advent of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, but T&D goes much deeper than that by studying the proliferation of clean torture techniques throughout the 20th century.

Ultimately, Rejali produces a comprehensive compendium of modern torture techniques, espoused in great detail. T&D is useful not only to the aspiring academic, but also vital to human rights groups around the world who are struggling to adapt to the constant evolution of modern torture. All in all, it would be difficult to classify the entire work as anything less than "significant" if not "sweeping."