Sunday, December 21, 2008

Torture and why the foot?: Part One

In earlier times the desire to quell free thought and the need to elicit perceived truth were indistinguishable and achieved, in the main, through the medium of torture. Throughout history the black art of inflicting pain has been ever present but perhaps had its heyday in the Middle Ages. By the sixteenth century plain persuasion by means of pressing usually ended in death. Whilst this solved one problem by removing the deviant, it was less satisfactory in court cases where confessions and names of accomplices were required. Feet provided a most acceptable alternative i.e. being easy to inflict excruciating pain with the added advantage of not causing death. Torture of the foot became well established in civilised societies and continues to exist to this day.

The use of torture techniques to obtain information is now against civilised culture and a group called Amnesty International works to obliterate it throughout the world. To find out more please visit Amnesty International (USA) . According to Scott (1995) torture may be described as a form of cruelty or method of tormenting. The concept of torture is based on two fundamental things, human beings capacity to imagine as well as their susceptibility to pain. The skills of the tormentor required to be highly developed as the turn of a screw could have dire consequence. When sanctioned by the State, it was executed by duly accredited or appointed officials, through judicial authorities. Torture and punishment were the primitive law that provided a means for forcing the individuals to act contrary to their wishes whilst compelling them to accept dictatorial jurisdiction. Repression and prevention of all attempts to rebel against that authority or the tenets of its creed was the sole focus of this form of persecution. Torture provided the most powerful instrument available and was subsequently used by the State to wage war against treason; and the Church, in preventing of heresy. Pain was often so extreme the victim was impelled to confess anything, which his interrogators might wish.

The provisions of the Magna Carta represented torture as abhorrent to the principle of English freedom but the Anglo Saxons were a callous and cruel race and whilst torture was never recognised by the common law of England, it was practised with the full authority of the reigning monarchs for 400 years. Torture was used to extract confessions and to obtain evidence but the activities were disguised, euphemised or justified under the name of punishment or as a discipline. It may be the principle of public exhibitions involving torture and cruelty may have been an attempt to lessen the incidence of lust, murders and lynching. However judges and executioners of the Middle Ages were compelled to be continually inventing new and more severe forms of torture. The brutal form of punishment practised in one decade became a commonplace method in the next.

Recorded history indicates witches were persecuted from the time of Noah but it was not until the end of the fifteenth century when Pope Innocent VIII issued a bull, which specifically called the faithful to exterminate sorcerers and witches as enemies of the Christian religion. Many brave people tried to put an end to the painful persecution but it took till the nineteenth century to become outlawed. The English renounced judicial torture in 1640 and it was abolished in Scotland in 1708. Frederick the Great abolished torture in Prussia. (1740), the Dutch in 1771. The Italians abolished torture in 1786, the French 1789. In Russia it came to an end 1801, Spain 1812, Germany 1831; and Japan in 1873. Torture continues to be used in many countries around the world, despite official denials.

Scott GR 1995 A history of torture London: Senate.

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