“There Is No Stopping”

Lewis, Anthony

The New York Times, May 12, 1997

In 1997 a high-level Israeli commission approved the use of “moderate physical pressure” to deal with suspects in terrorism investigations. To Israel, this has meant holding people for days and weeks, depriving them of sleep for days at a time and confining them in excruciating bodily positions, or shaking them so violently that they suffer terrible pain of back and head, or, in one case in 1995, even die. Israel says that “moderate physical pressure” (if the Israeli torturers had to endure it they might not call it “moderate”) is reserved for people who have information that could prevent an imminent bombing or other attack. But this is not likely: (1) Some suspects are held for days or weeks; (2) 80% of them are released without being charged with anything. So what is Israel really up to? The answer is that the purpose of torture is not nearly always to gain information. The purpose is to intimidate and hurt the prisoner, demoralize his family and friends, and thus silence and ruin as many people on “the other side” as possible. Meanwhile, the torturers do their stuff and then phone their wives to say that they will be home on time. They are allowed to think of their lives and work as normal. But in fact both they and their society are corrupt.