From Labour Review, Volume 5, No. 1, February–March 1960, pp 32-36.
Transcribed & marked up by Ted Crawford & D. Walters for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL) in 2009.
Gangrene. With an introduction by Peter Benenson. Calder Books, 7s. 6d.
A recent news report that French army officers were attending training courses in ‘torture’ was hardly surprising in these times, although they, like their counterparts in other armies and police forces, have always seemed to get on remarkably well without formal instruction. This book documents some brilliant—or should it be clumsy?—examples of the handiwork of some French and British practitioners: a comparatively small sample, it must be said. Here are the accounts of their torture, in Paris itself, by Algerian student suspects, which formed the book ‘La Gangrene’ which was pursued by the de Gaulle government last summer. A real study in the refinements of the modern Inquisition. There is an account of the Hola Camp massacres and, in between, the remarkable experience of an English officer whose human instincts (he rose from the ranks) put him on the wrong side of the brutalised agents of colonialism in Kenya and earned him five fantastic months in prison without trial.
These valuable documents are preceded by a lengthy disquisition on torture by Mr. Benenson which is, shall we say, tortured. If I have understood him aright, torture is wrong because it does not achieve its purpose—‘the greater the pain, the less of the truth’, he says. When threatened with torture suspects give wrong and misleading information to save their skins, thus preventing the true facts from being brought to light. Khrushchev gets the truth quicker than Stalin ever did, &c. Harken, ye interrogators and gaolers the world over, a little kindness goes a long way! If Mr. Benenson’s advice is followed, the army and police will attend courses in extracting information without pain or discomfort to the victim. And, to save democracy, Ministers will resign when tortures and atrocities perpetrated by their underlings are brought to light.
I did have the feeling, which became a certainty when reading this book, that the title had a significance which had escaped its editor. The regimes which use torture exude brutality as a gangrenous wound exudes pus—and the remedy is a surgical operation, not a soothing balm.
Last updated: 17 October 2009