Book Title: The History of Torture

Author: Daniel P. Mannix

Year of Publication: 20149

Publisher: Maple Circle, Lake Oswegoe Net Press

PP: 197

Reviewer: Patrick Swanzy

Concerns on Torture, otherwise known as cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment, is on the rise globally, with the documentation of the activities occurring in diverse ways. Various authors have written on the issue both in the olden days and in contemporary times, but none of the books are filled with exciting chapters and are remarkably like ‘The History of Torture” authored by Daniel P. Mannix. Filled with exciting twenty chapters, he chronicles how humans have indulged in cruelty from ancient days to the modern era.  The insightful nature of his book positions him as different from other writers of his generation.

In the first three chapters, the author presents the history of torture, using historical examples from countries like Syria, Angola, Kenya, Tibet, Argentina, Britain and many more.  Joining the debate on the quest to reach a consensus on the definition of torture, Mannix argues that there is no precise definition of what constitutes torture. He claims that the Assyrians were the first people to use torture and mass extermination as a definite military policy. Mannix further observed that the Assyrians planned their torturous very well and used torture and wholesale massacre to frighten other nations into surrendering. He documented the torture techniques adopted in that era as decapitation, mutilation, flaying, impalement, crucifixion. He described the persecution of the early Christians in chapter three and mentioned St. Benjamin, St. Catherine, St. Apollonia and St. Polycarp as some of the martyrs.

Mannix devoted chapters four, five and six to Inquisitors. He gave a historical account of the Christian church's role in promoting torture in the olden days. According to the author, the Inquisition became a symbol of organized cruelty. He opines that the Inquisition varied from country to country, from period to period, and as the torture in the dungeons was kept secret, no one can definitely say what took place. Mannix, like his fellow author, Henry Charles Lea doubted the accounts on torture attributed to the Inquisition because of the inability to find traces of historical references to the torturous acts. The author concludes that the greatest curse that the Inquisition visited on humanity was that it established the use of torture as part of any legal procedure, whether religious or secular.  

In chapter seven, the author mentioned Nuremberg as the famous torture chamber in Europe in the 12th century. He laments that a professional torturer’s reputation during that era often depended on what new and ingenious methods he had invented and how complete his stock of weird, complicated instruments was, regardless of whether these devices served any useful purpose. Mannix mentions some torture techniques and instruments in the chapter. 

 In chapter eight, Mannix extends his discussion on human torture to animals. He shows how cruelty was meted out to animals in the ancient days. He claims that the ancient courts had biblical authority for these remarkable trials. Quoting the Mosaic code, he states that “if an ox killed a man, the animal was to be stoned to death; if a man committed bestiality, both man and beast were killed.” He claimed that animals were allowed to have lawyers. Mannix opines that the motives that cause an individual or a people to use torture cannot be attributed to any single cause but varied reasons. 

In chapter nine, Mannix advertised that the most authentic British instruments of torture are on exhibition in the Tower of London but cautioned that getting photographs of them is difficult because all the ancient artifacts in the Tower are crown property and protected by copyright. 

Mannix argues in the tenth chapter of his book that the rope used by a hangman was regarded as possessing miraculous powers, although no two experts in the occult arts can agree exactly what the powers consist of. He highlighted that the rope was the most valuable of the hangman’s perquisites at all events.

 In chapter eleven, the author acknowledges that flogging during the ancient days was a standard procedure that was regarded more like a gentle reprimand than as a true punishment unless administered with particular brutality.  The author cites a contemporary poem by John Taylor to support his claim. The author concluded that in spite of the severity of the 18th-century punishments, it refused to reverse the crime rate rather, the more tortures and executions there were, the more crimes people committed. 

The author gives credence to Cesare Beccaria, a Milanese lawyer, to have started the moral crusade that finally abolished the legal use of torture in chapter twelve. Mannix argues that Beccaria recommended prevention rather than the punishment of crime, denounced the futility of torture, and urged for speedy trials. The author laments that this notwithstanding, modified types of torture, continued to exist during the latter part of the 18th and are even common nowadays. 

Exile is highlighted as the oldest of all punishments, employed by herds of animals against a transgressor in chapter thirteen. Using the sentence pronounced against Adam and Eve as an example, he further explains how European nations such as Britain, who served as a colonial master, used the technique to dump her convicts in Australia, regarding them as scarcely human. Mannix's account in this chapter is well presented and coherent. 

In chapter fourteen, Mannix directs his discussion on torture to east precisely Asia and uses China as an example. He argues that the Chinese have always been famous for their elaborate and ingenious tortures. Mannix enumerated the torturous acts of the Asians and stated that the tortures had typically picturesque names. What is flawed in this chapter is that the author uses “Orientals,” a terminology with a racist undertone that can be equalled to inhumane treatment like torture.  

The author mentions in chapter fifteen that the early African monarchs carried more human sacrifices than any other people except the Aztecs. He claims that even though Benin was the most outstanding of all the African nations and practiced human sacrifice and torture to a fantastic degree, torturous practices were also identified in other countries, including Nigeria. What is deficient about this chapter is that the author failed to provide data on Benin in comparison with other countries making the ranking questionable.  

Chapter sixteen presents’ the United States of America, an apostle of human rights as famous for the judicial use of police torture known as the “third degree.” The author claims that, like the tortures of the Inquisition, the purpose of the third degree is to force a confession. The straitjacket has always been popular with American police as a torture device. It leaves no mark, and the police can always argue that the prisoner became so unruly that he had to be restrained. 

The seventeenth chapter discusses mass executions. Mannix indicated that, until 1940, the world’s record for an individual who had indulged in mass executions was Genghis Khan, an Afghan who killed 1,747,000 people in Herat, Afghanistan, during the 13th century until Adolf Hitler beat his record. He claims that Dachau, a German concentration camp, is preserved as a national monument to the dead under the motto, “Forgive, but never forget.”

In chapter eighteen, he draws attention to the contribution of electricity to the science of torture in the 20th century. Citing Dr. Caride, he describes how a setup termed “the little machine” is used to make victims impotent. He explains further that the machine works by wrapping a copper wire around the testicles of the victims and then connecting the wires to a battery. Mannix laments that new techniques have since been developed, and we currently accept them as routine acts, which would have shocked Jack Ketch. 

Mannix highlights the role of torture in the liberation struggles, especially in Africa and other parts of the world, in chapter nineteen. In this chapter, Mannix makes a factual error. He smartly twists the account on torture to portray the natives of Africa and others in the Global South as the initiators of torture instead of the colonizer. These biases exhibited by Mannix put a dent in his well-written book.

  He concludes in Chapter twenty that, even though close to a thousand years, torture has principally been used to extract confessions from accused persons. Most writers on this issue have directed their efforts to prove that confessions made under torture are unreliable. I disagree 

with Mannix on this statement because it seeks to undermine the efforts of other authors in the field. He cautions that a confession obtained through torture is worthless unless the accused supports the claims of his/her guilt with evidence.  Therefore, he advocated for a continuous debate on the pros and cons of the use of punishment, especially corporal punishment.

Even though international conventions and national frameworks abhor torture, the act persists in most societies, and the techniques employed have become highly developed and diverse, making it a crucial issue today.