They have the most innocuous sounding names: rack, the straw plant, the diving chair, noise maker’s fire; but throughout human history, especially during Medieval Times and the Spanish Inquisition, these names instilled fear for anyone who has heard of them.
Imagine being stretched to the point until you are literally split into two, having your fleshed burned and charred with a symbol that detailed your crime, or stuffed into a dugout hole deep into the ground and left there until you confessed. These are just a few of the indignities that many individuals were forced to endure for their crimes.
The crimes varied in their type and their severity, from outright murder to simple infractions that violated social norms.
Many of the scorned were women; punished for their impropriety, for addressing male counterparts in a demeaning way, or simply talking out of turn.
This was life 500 years ago.
At the Museum of Man in Balboa Park, they’ve obtained the exhibit from the Museo Della Tortura in Siena, Italy.
This Italian exhibit is in a dark and almost hidden room that is located across the courtyard from the museum that contains no windows and an overhead balcony which is drawn closed with thick curtains. The building gives an ambiance of a church: silent, dismal, and cold.
This exhibit that has been hosted at Balboa Park since 2012 and is affectionately known as “The Instruments of Torture.”
Iron masks, chastity belts, spikes, stretchers, guillotine, and axes are only a portion of what they have. Objects we are aware of mainly through stories but when people come face to face with these ancient, blood encrusted, pain inflicting and humiliating devices, it becomes all too real for them.
These objects have been collected from abandoned castles or other European museums. They vary in techniques and the descriptions for each object gives gruesome details about how and when these instruments were used.
“It’s terrifying to know that most of these implements were used up until the 1800’s.” Frances Lopez, a museum visitor commented.
“There was this not even silent but outright war on women for so many thousands of years even though we consider ourselves high society,” she added.
The museum designed this exhibit so people would start to question the ethics of torture since several stories have broken out about torture in the War on Terror, Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib Prison.
Ashley Mercado, another museum visitor said, “It’s a reminder like going to the Holocaust Museum it’s a reminder of what we’re capable of.”
Torture in Today’s World
On the Museum of Man’s website, there are several videos of panel discussions between members of the museum staff and sites that help victims of torture from all over the world. It also states that torture has become an issue since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and how society actually does condone torture in certain situations.
In May 2004, Dan Rather broke a story about a prison where innocent people were being degraded, harassed, and even killed until 2004. That prison is called Abu Ghraib.
Until recently, members of the American military found “enhanced interrogation techniques” necessary to force on Taliban suspects. The first time the public was aware of this story was in early 2004 when a report filed by Gen. Antonio Taguba was released. It stated that soldiers of the 320th Military Police Battalion were physically and sexually abusing their prisoners.
Many different torture techniques were used in Abu Ghraib. Sleep deprivation, ice showers, isolation, and rape were just a few. Others endured much harsher treatments that are too gruesome to describe.
One man was forced to stand on a box with a bag over his head and wires taped to his wrists. He was told if he stepped off the box, he would be electrocuted.
In a CBS 60 Minutes II story, a lawyer named Gary Myers who was defending Sgt. Chip Frederick, stated that the reserve soldiers at Abu Ghraib were undermanned, under trained, and were put to the task of softening up prisoners for interrogation.
No regulations. No codes of conduct.
Photos of military men and women surfaced, pointing at gagged and bloody prisoners, forcing them into compromising positions and soldiers giving thumbs up while in the background prisoners are dragged by leashes around their necks.
While there are several treaties against the use of enhanced interrogation sponsored by the United Nations, there are still countries that justify torture.
Torture is alive and well today, with thousands of people being affected by it every year, but there are people who care and will assist the victims in any way they can.
Lopez said that even though one person may act in a violent way, it takes many more people to continue the act and make it acceptable in society.
One group named the Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma helps people who seek political asylum in the United States.
They’ve been operating since 1994 and their goals are to educate the national and global community about torture and its after effects.
According to the United States office of Refugee Settlement, roughly 40,000 out of approximately 500,000 torture or war trauma victims living in the U.S. seek help with ASTT.
Many of these refugees struggle in acclimating to life without their families, learning a new language, or simply trying to cope with what they’ve been through.
The Museum of Man stated on its website the staff is trying to bring awareness to this delicate situation by displaying ancient and sadistic instruments of torture and contrasting these objects with the simple fact that torture is not an ancient technique.
It has advanced into horrific and psychologically terrifying ways because now they target not only your physical weaknesses by keeping you awake for over 24 hours, they abuse you mentally as well.
Take away a simple truth about this exhibit that torture should not be condoned under any circumstance and that we can learn how to stop it.
Donald Pepper, a volunteer docent, said “Kind of grim. Man’s inhumanity to man knows no limits, unfortunately.”
He could very well be right.