Why torture doesn't work : two experimental proofs

By Matthieu Ricard on May 22, 2012

In the 18th century, a Milanese judge, who did not believe that torture had any value in obtaining reliable confessions from suspected criminal, killed his mule, accused his servant of committing the misdeed, and had him subjected to torture, whereupon the man confessed to the crime; he even refused to recant on the gallows for fear of being tortured again. (He spared him of course!)

The judge then abolished the use of torture in his court. The writer Daniel Mannix recounts another demonstration:

The Duke of Brunswick in Germany was so shocked by the methods used by Inquisitors in his duchy that he asked two famous Jesuit scholars to supervise the hearings. After a careful study the Jesuits told the Duke, ‟The Inquisitors are doing their duty. They are arresting only people who have been implicated by the confession of other witches.”

‟Come with me to the torture chamber,” suggested the Duke. The priests followed him to where a wretched woman was being stretched on the rack. ‟Let me question her,” suggested the Duke. ‟Now woman, you are a con¬fessed witch. I suspect these two men of being warlocks. What do you say? Another turn of the rack, executioners.”

‟No, no!” screamed the woman. ‟You are quite right. I have often seen them at the Sabbat. They can turn themselves into goats, wolves, and other animals.”

‟What else do you know about them?” demanded the Duke.

‟Several witches have had children by them. One woman even had eight children whom these men fathered. The children had heads like toads and legs like spiders.” 

Excerpts from: Pinker, S. (2011). The better angels of our nature: Why violence has declined. Viking Adult.