Torture in Mauritania: let me count the ways

How many ways can torturers find to hurt people? You’d maybe think that there’s a sort of limited number. Half a dozen. A dozen. Whatever.

Actually, the more Amnesty stuff I read over the years the more I realise – chillingly enough – that there’s basically no limit to the grotesque lengths people will go to to inflict pain and suffering.

Here’s a quick checklist based on torture in Mauritania (subject of a new Amnesty report out today). Beatings: yes. Being tied up and hoisted from a high bar: yes. Electric shocks: yes. Cigarettes put out on the body: yes. Cuts with a metal saw: yes. Sodomization with truncheons: yes. Threats of rape against family members: yes. (Read Amnesty campaigns director Tim Hancock blogging on the Telegraph blog site for more on the report and the non-televisuality of real torture.)

It turns out that Mauritanian torturers have a name for trussing up and beating someone who’s hanging from a metal bar – “the Jaguar” – and, apparently for maximum perversity value, masked Mauritanian torturers also have the habit of chanting “songs” while carrying out torture.

To me this is quite simply off-the-map in terms of pure horror. Like ….

…. I was reading an article about people’s jobs in the Times the other day. It was about a police diver who works at the bottom of freezing cold 13-metres-deep rivers like the Clyde searching for clues in crime investigations. He and his colleagues work in “nil viz” conditions where they can’t see anything. They have to feel for things. They constantly bump into objects like shopping trolleys and bikes on the river bottom. And it’s even been known that one of them in nil viz will get pushed by the current into the back of a submerged van with its back doors open and then bump into a van wall, then another, then another ..

As the Times writer doing the piece said about the van scenario: “some of us feel we deserve the George Cross just for listening to a story like that” – that’s how I feel sometimes hearing about things like the chanting torturers of Mauritania.

Anyway, don’t let it get to you! Instead, take part in our excellent Greetings Card Campaign, and send a message of support to one of these three cases of people around the world who have actually suffered torture but come out the other side.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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