A Secret History of Torture

Thursday, January 24, 2013

There has been recent debate over whether isolation cells in "Supermax" prisons should be classified as torture. (Flickr user ewarwoowar (cc: by-nc-sa))

Investigative journalist Ian Cobain argues that while the United Kingdom does not “participate in, solicit, encourage or condone” torture, when it’s faced with potential threats to national security, the rules change. His book A Secret History of Torture, shows how, from World War II to the War on Terror, the West has repeatedly and systematically resorted to torture, bending the law, and turning a blind eye. He draws on previously unseen official documents and the accounts of witnesses, victims and experts.


Ian Cobain

Comments [7]


Obama still hasn't closed Gitmo. (I wonder if there's torture going on there?)

Jan. 24 2013 01:55 PM

There have been several reports in foreign media and alternative American media that New York Times reporter Judith Miller took part in the torture of Iraqi prisoners.

It's deeply troubling that so many American journalists seem to take the view that "We owe the US government and military leaders our loyalty." Lara Logan, who was herself attacked in Egypt, expressly stated that she believed (so much for the opinionless objectivity of journalists in the US) that journalists should not challenge US military officials or the US government.

I really don't know what US debate Mr. Lopate is referring to. It's not happening on NPR or ABC or in the pages of the New York Times, except for very rare op-ed essays. It is only the alternative press that is challenging the US.

As for US claims, there are ample reports that the US is still torturing at Bagram airbase.

Jan. 24 2013 12:36 PM

Are there any states which distinguish themselves as non users of torture?

Jan. 24 2013 12:35 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Hugh, I'm glad you mentioned the torture of IRA prisoners. Some of the things Mr. Cobain mentioned earlier made me think of the torture techniques that were used in H Block.

And I'm trying to decide which euphemism is worse: "aids to interrogation" or "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Jan. 24 2013 12:30 PM

How on earth have US media held American officials to account? Democracy Now reports. Shows like Leonard Lopate's interview people like Ian Cobain. But the New York Times, CNN, NPR have been terrible on holding Bush or Obama to account. The New York Times willfully withheld the truth repeatedly until Wikileaks and others reported what Bill Keller and others were too cowardly or too complicit to report.

Jan. 24 2013 12:15 PM

Anyone who remembers "the troubles" knows that the UK tortured people it suspected of being IRA terrorists. Remember the Guildford Four or the Maguire Seven? I don't mean to excuse IRA terrorism, but British behavior was reprehensible.

Meanwhile, NPR still refuses to use the word "torture" to describe American waterboarding and other "harsh interrogation techniques" even though _both_ the US government and NPR have described as torture _exactly_ those techniques when used by the Japanese during WW2 or more recently by states or regimes the US has opposed.

The hypocrisy of the US government, its international allies, and their tame media hacks (like NPR) is staggering. (And I would not associate WNYC with NPR on this.)

Jan. 24 2013 12:06 PM
Jacob from chicago

I was tortured for almost 3 years by the FBI and their friends only
because 85 years old man, Roland Sibens(chicago) convinced them that I
am a terrorist. I was tortured for working on my prosthetic legs in
the basement. I done absolutely nothing illegal or wrong. They thought
that in theory it is possible to hide bomb in them. They saw an
opportunity to get famous, so they were trying to torture me till I
sign their insane story. They tortured me using more than 100
different torturing methods and trust to me waterboarding is not how
they torture nowadays. I dont know where to find justice.

I think that after 9/11 things got out of control. Freedom fighters
became tyrants. In 1945, most Germans had an opportunity to learn about Nazis death
camps. I hope that one day American citizens will get chance to learn about people
like me, who were tortured with no reason for years.

Jan. 23 2013 12:23 PM

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