Book Review: Torture by Edward Peters

We use the word torture broadly to mean to make others suffer; this book is making a case about legal torture as it was initially used as a legitimate way to get information out of citizens or more like those who weren’t considered as free people, i.e., slaves and foreigners. The book goes over the history of the lawful use of torture and how it has changed until the Algerian War of Independence. Where both sides, the French Armed Forces and the opposing Algerian National Liberation Front, used torture, something many thought impossible to happen again after World War II and the declaration of human rights. It shocked the world then as it does now. But we have a long history of the legal use of torture starting from Ancient Greek practices, moving to Rome to Germany to England and, of course, adding in the famous inquisitions. This is not a book about shock and awe; it is about legal reasonings, how and when it should be applied, and to whom. Also, how the laws have changed and why, and what has affected them.

I could go on about the effects of enlightenment or the rise of policing procedures and their impact on laws and use of torture, but that was not what caught my eye. It was the fact that every turn people questioned torture and the information it contracted. There was always doubt about the rightfulness of the confession gained under duress. This was not only discord of the scholars, but all. How can you trust the testimony against you, if it can be gained with violence? When you know everyone will crack eventually. And everyone in the seat of power knows that they could be next if all the social niceties of their plays fail. So, why do we use it? I have always wondered if it ever has been truly about information or about something else? Revenge, hate, purity, the maliciousness of our mind? A trap we seem to fall in when we seek control over things we can’t control as happens to be always with war, revolutions, and chaos, and randomness of human life. We have seen that the Algerian War of Independence wasn’t the end of the use of legal torture. The last decade has shown that the useless method has risen its ugly head and is again used in the name of justice, freedom, and righteousness. I’m horrified, appalled, and mostly sad. Don’t we ever learn?

About the book, it can be tedious to read at times. It is an academic text about laws, but if you are interested in change, history, and torture, I recommend this book. It will make you see the issue in a new light, the light it should be seen. Laws are important indicators of our societal values, what we think as a good life, and how we value each other and our citizens. What stops the laws about torture to stop at enemy combats or slaves or foreigners? Not that anyone deserves such treatment, not ever. But these questions have to be asked whenever we change our policies? Where does it stop?

Thank you for reading! I would like to say, have a lovely day, but I’m still with the victims, with the mutilated minds and bodies. Have a compassionate day.

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