Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture

Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture

A compelling investigation of three incidents of torture in the Western world and what they tell us about how ordinary people can become torturers, about the rationalizations societies adopt to justify torture, about the potential in each of us for acting unspeakably.

Using firsthand interviews, official documents, and newspaper accounts, John Conroy examines interrogation practices in a Chicago police station, two raids conducted by the Israeli army, and the case of Northern Ireland’s “hooded men,” who were tortured by British forces. He takes us inside the experience of the victim, the mind of the torturer, and the seeming indifference of the bystander.

In the spirit of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, Conroy visits with former torturers, describes their training and family backgrounds, and examines the justifications they and their societies offer for the systematic abuse of men, women, and children. He interviews survivors of torture and learns of the coping mechanisms they deployed and the long-term effects of their ordeals. He draws on those meetings and on previous studies, such as Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority, to help us understand the dynamics of torture.

Recent events — particularly the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and well-publicized cases of police brutality in our own country — make it essential that we understand such acts of violence, as the first step in eradicating them. Lucid and unblinking, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary
takes us further toward this goal than any book we have had yet.

List price: $26.00

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