Book Reviews



Torture - A Collection

Edited by Sanford Levinson

Review by Richard Sheppard


The notion and nature of torture is in high season nowadays, as America engages an enemy that is both brutal and largely outside the rules of war. This collection of essays covers a large swath of the debate, from what constitutes torture, how past and present regimes have used or declined to use torture, and the arguments that might justify torture. Overall, while the authors are from groups that are anti-torture, the initial essays are a balanced account about an abominable practice that will never go away so long as regimes and individuals think it will work, and the dirty secret is, it often does. 

The book veers off-balance in the last third of so of the essays; that entire section covers the so-called torture that may have occurred under American auspices in Iraq's Abu Gharib prison. Most people have seen the humiliating pictures - whether these foolish practices constitute "torture" will depend on your particular view about America's decision to go into Iraq in the first place. This reviewer does not consider American methods as "torturous" but acknowledges some might, if they consider "degradation" and "humiliation" in addition to physical discomfort as "torture."