“A Question of Torture” by Alfred McCoy

“In April 2004, the American public was stunned when CBS Television broadcast photographs from Abu Ghraib prison, showing Iraqis naked, hooded, and contorted in humiliating positions while U.S. soldiers stood over them, smiling”. (p.5)

Here Alfred McCoy starts his narration. His book “A Question of Torture” is labeled as a penetration study of fifty years American participation in torture propagation, research and practice. The book reveals degrading and inhumane treatment, cruelty and injustice in US history intensified by tragic personal case studies and experiences.

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The author deepens in why the tortures were sued, where they were implemented and what the consequences were. It is known that CIA had spent millions of dollars on torture research and the author writes that it combined self-inflicted pain with sensory deprivation with the eternal purpose of creating revolutionary psychological approach. The goal was to develop the first innovation in torture: “Still, if genius is the discovery of the obvious, then the CIA’s perfection of psychological torture was a major scientific turning point, albeit unnoticed and unheralded in the world beyond its secret safe houses”.  (p.7)
The primary techniques in torturing were hooding, isolation, extremes of hot and cold, hours of standing without opportunities to move or to change body position, manipulation of time. In such a way CIA had managed to destroy victim’s senses and his personal identity. All these techniques are claimed to have been used in Vietnam, Iraq, Iran and Central America. For example, Washington is argued to refer to torture in CIA’s prisons and torture-friendly countries.
Nevertheless, information obtained through torturing is really worthless as victims were ready to acknowledge their fault even if they were not guilty. McCoy says that the agency used electric shocks and recruited peopled like, for example, Kurt Plotner. The author concludes that the simplest and cheapest methods work the best and, what is more awful, public accepted them more than physical violence.
Book Discussion
I think that the book “A Question of Torture” is really shocking and impressive study as the author reveals the most contradictive and painful pages of American history.
Nevertheless, the book contributes historical filed as McCoy tends to provide neutral and realistic examples how tortures were used by CIA and where they were used. The author frames historical development of tortures stressing they are sanctioned. He seems to be very concerned with the diminished standards of American nation.
However, I agree with McCoy that tortures are rarely affective and it is simply a like looking for a needle in haystack. The book teaches us that once torture is implemented, it results in mass tortures as, for example, tortures in Argentina and Chile during their ‘dirty wars’. Moreover, mass tortures are linked to increased rates of judicial killings.

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