In Europe Torture was largely abolished by the 19th century.

It returned with the fascist states of the 1930s. After 1945 the former Nazi torturers seem to have taught their skills to the French and the Americans. The French used it in their colonial wars in Algeria and Vietnam. The Americans taught it to the military rulers of the Latin American states during the 1960s and 1970s in the infamous School of the Americas. Then they began to use it themselves in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and other military prisons they maintained during the "war" against Al Qaeda.

This is despite the international agreements outlawing torture and requiring the civilised treatment of Prisoners of War and others.

There is a suspicion that torture is also used routinely in civilian prisons in the US and other countries in the form of sanctioned brutality. If so, it is against the US constitution which outlaws "cruel and unusual punishment".

We live in bad times when torture, once thought to have been confined to the totalitarian and Third World countries, has returned to the alleged democracies of the US and Britain. See also rendition and Problems of Torture.

The practice of torture by the United States and Britain seems to have returned on a large scale following the events on 11 September 2001 in New York and Washington.

Here is an article by Ian Cobain about the practice of torture by British intelligence officers (getting Pakistani and other states to do the actual torture). See also the lawyer Gareth Pierce on torture in Northern Ireland and other areas - the close collaboration between Britain and the US.

Useful reading

Philippe Sands - Torture Team
How the US government lifted the ban on torture

Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values

Gareth Pierce - Dispatches from the Dark Side

Last revised14/10/10


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