The Curious Case of Gertrauta Conrad

 FROM THE CHURCH OF INEFFABLE STUPIDITY:

"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. http://seminal.firedoglake.com/…  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.