Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture

John Conroy, Author Alfred A. Knopf $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-679-41918-1
How is it that otherwise normal people can become part of the institutionalized practice of torture? That's the question driving this unusual, extremely well-reported book. At the Chicago Reader, Conroy spent years reporting on the kind of torture that happens not in exotic locales but in his own backyard--in Chicago's police precincts. Curious and troubled by what he found, he decided to explore the ordinariness of brutality through three separate incidents of torture--in Israel, Ireland and Chicago. He investigates the ""five torture techniques"" (hooding, noise bombardment, food deprivation, sleep deprivation and forced standing against a wall) inflicted on 12 Irish prisoners in 1971; a late 1980s round-up on the West Bank of Palestinians, who were bound, gagged and beaten; and Chicago's notorious John Burge case, in which police officers systematically beat and electrocuted (on the head, chest and genitals) a man suspected (and later convicted) of killing a police officer. In all three cases, although the torture was well documented, little or no punishment was handed down. Conroy does an excellent job reconstructing these events in a manner that reveals the presence of torture in everyday society. He's more a reporter than a critic, however; his brief attempt to theorize on why ordinary people become either torturers or silent witnesses to torture rehashes already well-known studies and fails to offer any new insights. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/28/2000
Release date: 03/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 315 pages - 978-0-520-23039-2
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 315 pages - 978-0-520-92761-2
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