The Curious Case of Gertrauta Conrad


"Our office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations." 

— John Yoo, on warrantless domestic surveillance of American citizens

[To constitute torture, physical pain] "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." 

— John Yoo, on why we can abuse anyone we detain, to the point of their dying from torture.

The year?  1595 

The place? The village of Ober Wittighaussen, (Germany) 

The target? Gertrauta Conrad 

The crime?  Being a widow, accused of sleeping with the Devil.

In what is now modern Germany, the decades between 1550 and 1650 saw the torture and death of more than 50,000 persons accused of witchcraft. 90% of them were female. Most victims were middle aged or older.  Fear, stoked and fed by the two competing religious cults, was the most common cause. Catholics and Protestants hated and feared each other, and accused neighbors, friends, even family of conspiring with Satan, simply because of a difference in religion. The one common belief held by both cults was that witchcraft was real, that it posed a clear and present danger to society, and that only an aggressive attack against witches could save society and the witches themselves.

Martin del Rio, a Jesuit witch hunter, described the many ways that witches could be identified. His Six Books of Investigations into Magic was used throughout Europe as the basis for witch hunting and torture. Together with Bishop Julius Echter, they convinced countless villages, towns and hamlets that the only thing worse than a Protestant or Lutheran was a witch.

The Protestants had their own heros with similar blood on their hands.  Both of them used the same logic in dealing with witches.

First, an accusation. 

Someone or something must have happened to suggest that a person was a witch. It could be a jealous neighbor, an angry relative, or even something as eerie as a black dog following a person. Most often, though, the stillbirth of a child, a child’s illness, or the death of poultry or farm animals was blamed on witchcraft.

Next, the interrogation. 

Once a witch was arrested, she had to be questioned. Experienced witch hunters knew that the most devious of witches would be the ones who denied their own sins in the strongest of terms. In fact, the longer they denied their own witchcraft, the more likely it was that they were receiving the support of the Devil.

Poor Gertrauta. For weeks, she was repeatedly tortured, then questioned. First, her arms were tied behind her back. She was then hung up by her arms, causing excruciating pain. During one such session, she was hung up for five straight hours. But, she refused to confess the truth. Thumb screws were applied with such force that her bones were crushed. Leg irons (crushing devices that were applied to the entire leg) also failed to wring the truth from her lips.  (her torture was carefully described by a church scribe, who witnessed the weeks long torture)

She, and others like her, were kept in the pitch dark, not permitted to sleep, had their heads forced under water, and had candles lit under their noses, breasts, and toes. Red hot branding irons were used to disfigure women’s breasts to keep them from suckling the Devil.

Gertrauta’s torturers believed that she continued to withhold the truth, her particular secrets and stories involving the Devil. Only by breaking her will through extreme pain, could they get her to confess, thereby allowing her soul to be saved. Sounds vaguely familiar, no?

Finally, the burning. 

Once an accused witch like Gertrauta admitted to her crime (In her case, having sex with the Devil’s  cold cock, and hiding the money he paid her in a butter churn) she was permitted to recant, whereupon she would be burned to death.

In her seminal book, Witch Craze, Lyndal Roper compared the European witch hunts  to the Soviet confessions 400 years later. If only she had met Jay Bybee or John Yoo before publishing. The insanity that afflicted the Bush Administration is no different than that which caused witch craze that infected so much of Europe.

The witch hunters of the 16th century had the same mindset as our Bush Administration. An accusation was made, followed by an arrest and detention. Both had the firm conviction that the person held unique information about a major threat to society. Both had the strong belief that pain was the only way to get them to confess the details of that threat. And of course, both practiced delusional self-justification, ie, that only because they used the best methods of interrogation, did they manage to get to the truth (saving society from a great harm).  The only thing that the Bush Administration forgot about was the burning. We can be thankful for small wonders. If Cheney had known more about history, who knows what else they would have tried.

Roper makes it clear that torture applied to witches got the same result as the torture we applied to Iraqis, Afghan, and Yemenis. Eventually, the victim will confess to anything and everything, just to make the pain stop.

400 years after Gertrauta and countless others died, it appears that Yoo, Bybee, Dick Cheney, and many others failed to learn the truth about torture.  Gertrauta’s admissions have precisely the same factual impact on Bush’s War on Terror as they did during their War on Witchcraft.  Put simply, torture does not work. Worse, it is a crime, a war crime, and a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Worst of all, it is a crime against humanity.

According to a carefully planted DOD news item, Admiral Mullen, our military’s top dog, was reportedly shocked and dismayed by the widespread level of torture inflicted upon people detained by US forces. According to Firedoglake,Many of the worst abuses in prisons in Iraq can be traced to Stanley McChrystal.…  As much as we all appreciate the DOD’s propaganda efforts, Mullen’s "dismay" provides little or no relief.

According to the government, torture was no longer permitted as of 2006, and those involved in past bad acts were prosecuted.

“To date, there have been 103 courts-martial; 89 service members were convicted – an 86 percent conviction rate,” Stimson told the committee. “Moreover, 19 service members received sentences of one year or more. Furthermore, more than 100 service members have received nonjudicial punishment; more than 60 were reprimanded; and to date, 28 service members were involuntarily separated from military service. Accountability is ongoing.”

Yippee.   Yet, so far, only the little fish have been called on their involvement in illegal acts, such as poor Lyndie England, while top generals and top civilians like McChrystal, Bybee, Yoo, and other war criminals get a pass. This is unforgivable and intolerable.

Some Americans still support the idea that torture in an emergency is worthwhile and appropriate. Jack Bauer notwithstanding, the Gitmo courts know better. Even if detainees and inmates were guilty of some crime, their prosecutions have been rendered impossible. Not only was the information received from torture victims false and simply made up, we wasted valuable resources on false leads, and worse, we ignored actual threats to our nation.  These folks also think that Sarah Palin would make a great president, that our founding fathers were all christians, that evolution is false, that abortion is murder (while the death penalty is god’s will) and that Muslims are all terrorists. All I can say is I hope the rapture finds these maroons very soon, gathers them all up, and leaves the rest of us here to live in peace, harmony and without their crazy ideas.

The stain of torture is huge. Our country cannot and will not remove it until and unless we bring those bastards who created this mess to justice. 400 years after Catholics and Protestants fought their enemy, Satan, with torture, we fought ours (Al Qaida) with the same tools. How little humanity has progressed in that time.



  1. AustinRanter

    The obvious is:

    Blood and guts sell. Corp/Media/Goverment has made that possible over time. We’ve all allowed ourself to be a victim of tabloid-political-government propaganda/brainwashing in one way or another.

    Through this process we’ve also been trained by the above to be mass consumers of the shock value of tragedy and we have had our addiction to our inner curiosities about human suffering exploited.

    We are becoming more and more desensitized to death and destruction. We’ve moved backward in evolution when it comes to understanding that the preservation of life…as it relates to our (our species) dependence on each other to survive …is imperative. This also applies to virtually all other life forms on earth.

    Yet we chose to murder and torture each other…knowing that it’s insane.

    Edited – AustinRanter 10:59 Am July 30, 2009

  2. Carl Nemo

    A superbly written, spot-on piece of work Rob Kezelis.

    If anything, you honor Gertrauta Conrad’s memory along with publicly comparing and indicting those in our times of the same mindless, evil, inhumane acts against their fellow men and women.

    It’s been 414 years since the woman passed from this earthly plane, but it seems that our modern, so called enlightened age isn’t all that so.

    Political and religious bullies with an agenda along with their corrupt, butt-kissing advisers will always find ways to justify their cruel acts for maintaining their power over others.

    “Justice is the interest of the stronger”…Plato

    Carl Nemo **==

  3. gazelle1929

    You quote Plato significantly out of context. Indeed, it is Thrasymachus who sets forth that postulate in Republic (VIII) and it is Socrates, quoted by Plato, who soundly proves that exactly the opposite is the case:

    “Then now, Thrasymachus, there is no longer any doubt that neither arts nor governments provide for their own interests; but, as we were before saying, they rule and provide for the interests of their subjects who are the weaker and not the stronger– to their good they attend and not to the good of the superior.”

    Here is a reference to the text of Republic (VIII) which I commend for your reading delight:

    http:// (link fixed to prevent filters from operating detrimentally on this post)

  4. frank verismo

    Yes – a very good piece.

    “…..while top generals and top civilians like McChrystal, Bybee, Yoo, and other war criminals get a pass. This is unforgivable and intolerable.”

    Polite words, indeed, given the corroded and corrupting character of the wretched man-worms you mention. Were they in a state of combustion, they would be unworthy of even the limited extinguishing potential of our urine.

    “These folks also think that Sarah Palin would make a great president, that our founding fathers were all christians, that evolution is false, that abortion is murder (while the death penalty is god’s will) and that Muslims are all terrorists.”

    You may well find some people who could tick all of those boxes, some who would tick none – and all possible combinations in between. ‘Stupid’ wears many hats. ‘Wise’ very few.

    “How little humanity has progressed in that time.”

    That the veneer changes, I have no doubt. That we ‘progress’ appears to be an illusion caused by our collective vanity.

  5. Carl Nemo

    Hi Frank Verismo,

    First of all I wish to say I always enjoy your input to this site. : )

    I thought I’d recommend a book that you might enjoy concerning man’s inhumanity towards man. To me it’s a must read for those on this site that have both instropective and analytical interests.

    It’s titled “A History of Sin” by Oliver Thompson copyright 1993; a 1995 release by Barnes and Noble.

    It covers the entire palette of perceived ‘morality’ since time immemorial and how the so-called ‘good people’ enforce their will upon those that are not perceived as such from generation to generation.

    The only reason I recommend this book to you is that it changed my entire worldview when it comes to understanding the collective psychosis of modern men and women as related to their inhumanity towards their brethren.

    I’m a fairly tough guy and the book caused me to “tear up”…!

    Carl Nemo **==

  6. Carl Nemo

    Thanks Gazelle for the link and the passage from the Republic (VIII) of which I haven’t perused in years.

    Based on this Rob Kezelis piece discussing medieval witch hunts and the long history of governments and religious groups throughout history more often than not sorely abusing it’s citizenry rather than protecting the weak, the down-trodden and the sick; then I have to say I dispute Socrates along with Plato’s brother Glaucon; ie., based on the history of the world that has existed both prior and subsequently to the great experiment in Athenian democracy.

    ” Thrasymachus [a character in Plato’s dialogue] violently disagreed with the outcome of Socrates discussion with Polemarchus about justice. Demanding payment before speaking, he claims that “justice is the advantage of the stronger” and that “injustice, if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice'” . Socrates counters by forcing him to admit that there is some standard of wise rule. Thrasymachus does claim to be able to teach such a thing — and then arguing that this suggests a standard of justice beyond the advantage of the stronger. The rest of the dialogue is occasioned by Glaucon’s dissatisfaction with Socrates’ refutation.” …extract from Wiki my brackets

    Note: Glaucon too was one of Socrates’ inner circle of students

    Since my quote although not exactly that of the original from Plato’s work, it is a thought from his brow as expressed through the character Thrasymachus [a living citizen of Chalcedon of that era], therefore to me it’s as good as if Plato stated so publicly regardless of it simply being an excercise in Socratic dialogue through his work “The Republic” 380 b.c.e.

    On that basis; in an imperfect world in which we exist, I too dispute Socrates along with Glaucon and no doubt many others throughout history that have experienced the jackboot or sandal of tyranny upon their necks … “justice is the advantage of the stronger” and that “injustice, if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice'”…Thrasymachus, extract from the “The Republic”

    I’d say the world at large is experiencing this phenomenon in spades at this point in history…no?! : |

    Carl Nemo **==

  7. woody188

    Great job Rob. Love the comparison. Except we took it one further and raped their children and made them watch. So just who is consorting with the Devil in our times?

    Take that Amon/Aman/Amen, you bastard!

    And great job pointing out the doublethink used in abortion/capital punishment hot button distractions.

    R U Main Core?

  8. Rob Kezelis

     woody, according to many confirmed reports, some of the grand inquisitors had their way with women and children as they tried to get them to confess. Much of the torture used, especially in Germany, was of a sexual nature. Women were often subjected to a test – long iron needles were repeatedly stuck in and around their groin. If the area swelled or became reddened, it was proof positive that they had slept with the devil. 

    the breast was also the subject of much attention, none of it pleasant for the owner. 

  9. ekaton

    It’s titled “A History of Sin” by Oliver Thompson copyright 1993; a 1995 release by Barnes and Noble.

    May I read this one also, Carl? grin…

    Kent Shaw

  10. Carl Nemo

    You shor can good buddy…:D

    Nice to hear from you. I encourage everyone that frequents CHB and RR to read the work. It will leave one hushed concerning man’s inhumanity to man throughout history along with the bigoted, hateful, simple-mindedness that drives such violence.

    Carl Nemo **==

  11. frank verismo

    Thank you, Carl – always after quality reading fodder.

    I shall do my best to track it down.

    One for you – Frances Stonor Sauders’ ‘the Cultural Cold War’. Ostensibly as the title suggests, but with far more wide-ranging insight for those who read between the lines. . . . .