A Survival of Torture

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A Survival of Torture  (1897) 
From Popular Science Monthly Volume 51, May 1897 Fragments of Science


A Survival of Torture.—Although the practice of torture to extract evidence was formally abolished in 1789, the spirit of the Inquisition has not yet died out in the continental countries of Europe. This is shown now and again in criminal cases. But not the convicts only are treated with the utmost severity. The mere suspicion of crime is enough to make a man's life miserable. He practically loses all civil rights, and finds himself at the mercy of an interrogating magistrate with full power to extract a confession, by moral suasion if possible, by more forcible means if need be. Subjected to a prolonged and tortuous system of cross-questioning, the accused often completely break down mentally and confess at random whatever has been suggested to them, much in the manner of the trials for witchcraft in our own Puritan New England. A case creating quite a sensation in Paris some thirty years ago was that of a woman who under this fire of interrogation admitted having killed her newborn infant, two months even before the birth of the child. If the culprits are suspected of obstinacy in answering, all sorts of expedients are used to make them more compliant, such as making their diet unpalatable, or altogether withholding food and water, and penning up in close, dark quarters.