Methods of proof for determining the guilt or innocence of an accused person have a long history in the development of legal procedure. The Middle Ages adopted so-called non-rational appeals to the “judgment of God,” ordeals and trial by combat. When this was felt to be unsatisfactory – and in fact was prohibited – another means of proofs had to be found in order to satisfy the juridic demands of sufficient proof to justify acquittal or conviction. Forced confession, torture, was employed, because this assured “full proof,” a confession of guilt, and hence a legal condemnation. With the emergence of centralized governments, trained judges, public prosecutors, and local police forces torture was no longer needed to permitted. Better means had been found. But what about the twentieth century? What justification can there be for over sixty nations whose governments systematically practice or, at the very least, tolerate the use of torture?

“In 1874, Victor Hugo could say ‘torture has once and for all ceased to exist.’ Today we are compelled to recognize that it is more widespread than ever before. In more than a third of the United Nations, torture is used either as a method of interrogation or as a means of punishing detainees. Torture knows no idealogical frontiers: it is practice in Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia, Uganda, Guinea, South Africa, Guatemala, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, USSR, Morocco, Tunisia, Israel and the People’s Republic of Yemen.” (Herbert Radtke, “Torture as an Illegal Means of Control,” 1979)

Albert Shannon, The Medieval Inquisition (1991)


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