Torture Trees: Police Violence from Chicago to the War on Terror

Laurence RalphHarvard University (Cultural Anthropology)

The history of police torture that I will discuss in this talk begins with 125 Black men in Chicago who were suffocated and shocked at Area Two police precinct. The story ends, however, in a much different place—with the torture of terrorism suspects abroad. Many of these torture survivors were eventually exonerated. Some received multi-million dollar payouts as recompense for their torture and confinement. But their exoneration should not reaffirm our faith in the law—quite the contrary.

In this talk I will challenge my audience not to think of the innocent person as the quintessential torture victim. Rather, think about a person who committed a heinous crime. Imagine that person being bagged and suffocated and beaten within an inch of his life. Ask yourself: Can I see enough humanity in him to understand why it is just as wrong to torture him, as it is to torture an innocent man?

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