Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture

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9780679419181: 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
People
takes us further toward this goal than any book we have had yet.

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From the Publisher:

"His book is nothing short of gripping... An audacious book...He has allowed himself to identify not only with victims but with those who tolerate torture... He has dared to place himself at the emotional center of his difficult, troubling subject and forced us to follow him there."        
-- Chicago Tribune

"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.... [Conroy] does an excellent job reconstructing [torture cases] in a manner that reveals the presence of torture in everyday society."
-- Publishers Weekly

"Provocative. . . What sets Conroy's account apart is the kaleidoscope of perspectives he creates . . . A well-researched journalistic reminder that democracies are not immune from brutality."
-- New York Times Book Review

"It would be comforting to believe that people who commit acts of torture are monsters. John Conroy is out to dispel any such comfort . . . While the stories are told in measured prose, Conroy's anger suffuses every page."
-- I>Washington Post

"A lament and indictment . . . Passionate about indifference to torture. . . Conroy's intelligent and insightful book has much to offer."
-- Newsday

About the Author:

John Conroy is a staff writer for the Chicago Reader and the author of Belfast Diary: War As a Way of Life. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. He lives outside Chicago, in Oak Park, Illinois.

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