Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture / Edition 1

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Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People is a riveting book that exposes the potential in each of us for acting unspeakably. John Conroy sits down with torturers from several nations and comes to understand their motivations. His compelling narrative has the tension of a novel. He takes us into a Chicago police station, two villages in the West Bank, and a secret British interrogation center in Northern Ireland, and in the process we are exposed to the experience of the victim, the rationalizations of the torturer, and the seeming indifference of the bystander. The torture occurs in democracies that ostensibly value justice, due process, and human rights, and yet the perpetrators and their superiors escape without punishment, revealing much about the dynamics of torture.

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Editorial Reviews

Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Conroy's book, the work of 10 years, is thought-provoking, chilling and a brilliant piece of reporting.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Conroy's book, the work of 10 years, is thought-provoking, chilling and a brilliant piece of reporting.
Chicago Tribune
A Chicago journalist's gripping, disturbing inquiry into torture and human nature.
John Schwartz
The most compelling parts of the book are Conroy's interviews with the 'ordinary people' of his title... He approaches torturers not as monsters but as fellow human beings.
Jill Laurie Goodman
Conroy's book is nothing short of gripping... 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.
John Krewson
A brilliant, disturbing book.
Carlos Salinas
Conroy's book is a page turner.
David Bosco
Conroy's reporting is inspired.
Dan Cryer
Intelligent and insightful.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Anne-Marie Cusac
Conroy's writing is always cognizant of the brutal acts these men and women have committed and the effect that torture has on the victims' lives. He wants to understand how torture happens, and his curiosity drives this disturbing book.
The Progressive
Kate Cambor
Conroy's sensitive portraits of those individuals who find themselves at either end of this situation of extreme cruelty and inhumanity provide an absorbing and thoughtful narrative.
The Boston Book Review
David Bosco
Conroy's reporting is inspired....From the West Bank comes the story of Palestinian men beaten by Israeli soldiers during the intifada; from Northern Ireland, the ordeal suffered by a dozen Catholic suspects; and from Chicago, an account of brutality by the city's police... What sets Conroy's account apart is the kaleidoscope of perspectives he creates.
N.Y. Times Book Review
Jill Laurie Goodman
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
John Schwartz
The most compelling parts of the book are Conroy's interviews with the 'ordinary people' of his title... He approaches the torturers not as monsters but as fellow human beings.
Washington Post Book World
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520230392
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 9/25/2001
  • Series: Social Science/Human Rights
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 315
  • Sales rank: 822,632
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet 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, and many other publications.

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Read an Excerpt

"And I think it was the first realization for me of how serious the ordeal was that I had been through, because the look that I saw on the screws' faces was one of sheer horror at my appearance. They were absolutely horrified. And the two of them grabbed me and helped me into a minibus and brought me around to the reception in Crumlin Road Jail. They fed me sweets, and they were running in and out of the cell for three-quarters of an hour, asking me did I want anything, giving me a packet of cigarettes, giving me a box of matches, and continually asking me did I want coffee or tea, until I was moved to D-wing, the basement, the holding cells. I was there overnight, but while I was there, other guys, whose voices I recognized, started talking through the bars, and I got up and I was talking through the bars with them, and I realized then that there were other people who had gone through the same process."

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix
1 Belfast: The Five Techniques 3
2 Israel: Night of the Broken Clubs 11
3 Chicago: Getting Confessions 21
4 History and Method 27
5 Belfast: "No Brutality of Any Kind" 39
6 Israel: A Dangerous Report 48
7 Chicago: "The Pain Stays in Your Head" 60
8 Torturers 88
9 Belfast: Ireland vs. the U.K. 123
10 Israel: The Court-Martial 138
11 Chicago: Informants 158
12 Victims 169
13 Belfast: Life Sentences 184
14 Israel: "The Next Step Is to God" 199
15 Chicago: The Public Is Not Aroused 225
16 Bystanders 242
Bibliographical Note 257
Acknowledgments 291
Index 295
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