Ahh, torture. That timeless art of inflicting pain on someone in terrible and creative ways. As a people we’re very good at being awful and our seemingly endless torture techniques have proven this time again. While many kinds of torture are well known or at least obvious, no one needs to claim to have invented burning or beating someone, others are far more obscure and unexpected.
10. The US Has Used Countless Bands as Musical Torture
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of music being used as a torture device. The stories actually get a decent amount of play in the media and the rest of us treat them like jokes because it’s silly to hear that Eminem, Drowning Pool, Skinny Puppy or Barney have been used to torture terrorism suspects or to make hostage takers give up.
In reality, when you dig deeper into how music is used in torture, is much darker and more disturbing than you’d think. Chilean prisoners under Pinochet were subjected to musical torture, including a song called Gigi L’Amoroso or Gigi the Ladies Man. Guards would sing it and the music would be played when they engaged in other acts of torture, in particular against women. The song describes a ladies’ man, so the song as torture had an explicit layer of sexual humiliation to it.
The CIA has used Rawhide by the Blues Brothers as torture. Prisoners would be held in dark rooms and the song would play endlessly, preventing sleep and increasing confusion and disorientation. It was also used as a trigger for some. A prisoner in a silent room would suddenly hear the music and know a fresh round of torture was about to begin, thus the music itself became a punishment as it instigated the fear and anxiety of what was to come.
9. Treadmills Were Once Used to Torture Prisoners
In 2017 there were about 53 million treadmill users in the US. It’s safe to say they’re one of the most popular machines in any gym. They were also meant to be torture devices, so keep that in mind if you ever get fed up with your workout.
Treadmills date back to 1818 when William Cubitt invented the “everlasting staircase.” Like a modern treadmill you got on and walked and the floor kept rolling out under you. Unlike modern treadmills these were designed for prisoners and could hold 40 men at a time. They kept walking forward while their effort would turn a mill and grind corn or pump water. It would also put the prisoners through endless agony as they walked for hours and hours a day without stopping.
By 1898 the laws changed and prisoners were no longer forced to walk the endless staircase, though the idea still seems popular with hamsters.
8. Prisoners Will Sometimes Make “Napalm”
Not all torture is developed by a governing body and it’s hard to say if that makes it better or worse. Sometimes everyday people come up with a way to inflict pain on others and it’s very impromptu in nature. Take prison napalm, for instance.
Real napalm is an incendiary gel. It’s made with various chemicals but it’s thick so it sticks to what it’s burning to increase damage and, if you’re unlucky, pain. Prisoners don’t have any of the chemicals needed to make napalm, but they have found a DIY version that’s just as insidious.
The basic principle is just something that burns and is thick and sticky. Inmates in an Irish prison took exception to a fellow prisoner who was convicted of killing a 16-year-old girl. They cornered him with a mixture of sugar and boiling water, a syrup but scalding hot. Reports say they added so much sugar it was close to a paste. They poured it down the man’s throat.
Research has shown that increased sugar levels create more intense burns and that prison napalm absolutely will produce severe and painful burns, much more than boiling water alone.
7. In the Spanish Civil War, Modern Art Was a Torture Device
We saw music used as torture, but it’s not the only art form that has been weaponized. The Spanish Civil War got a little esoteric and used modern art as torture. Prison cells in the 1930s were designed by anarchists with disorienting and “degenerative” art that was, at the time, the subject of the ire of many people, but most notably Adolf Hitler.
Hitler once stated, about Modern Art, that it’s “not the function of art to wallow in dirt for dirt’s sake” and like-minded, terrible people across Europe, including in Spain, had adopted those same ideas.
The cells were designed by a man named Alphonse Laurencic, who called it “psychotechnic torture” but later said, when he was put on trial, that he was forced to make the cells. They made use of abstract and surreal shapes and patterns, colors and even bothersome layouts like beds placed at 20-degree angles and blocks placed irregularly on the floor to make walking difficult.
6. White Torture Is an Extreme Sensory Deprivation
There are actually several definitions of the term “white torture” which can include any kind of torture that doesn’t physically harm a victim, as in they aren’t being beaten or cut or anything. One definition is oddly literal.
True white torture can involve being trapped in a literally white room. The white lights blaze all the time, the victim only has white clothes. One victim even said he was fed white rice on white paper plates.
In time, the lack of stimulation becomes unbearable. It has been described by those who have endured it as being worse than beatings that end in broken bones. It’s a kind of extreme sensory deprivation that the human mind cannot endure. Guards wear padded shoes so they make no sound and the prisoner is just lost in perfect, horrible white nothing. After 8 months, one prisoner was freed and could no longer even remember what his parents looked like.
5. The “Tucker Telephone” Electrocute the Genitals of Prisoners
The Tucker Telephone does not sound dangerous, and that was probably the point. It’s an innocuous name for a homemade torture device that was used at the Tucker State Prison Farm in Arkansas and it was insidious.
The Tucker Telephone was a hand-cranked generator in a box. It saw use at the facility back in 1967 and prison trustees, men who were actually inmates but put in charge of guarding and punishing others, would use it to torture inmates. All of it was sanctioned by prison officials.
A pair of wired clamps were attached to the generator. These would be applied to the victim, and the preferred sites would be a finger and the inmate’s genitals. Then the crank was turned and an electrical current would run through the victim.
4. Bamboo Shoots Would Grow Right Through a Torture Victim’s Body
Bamboo torture is one of those things that sounds like an urban legend but there is some evidence was actually real. It was also plausible since the Mythbusters tried it out and proved it was scientifically sound, if nothing else.
Bamboo is incredibly fast growing and also strong. The idea of the torture, which has murky origins, is that a victim is staked out on the ground above bamboo buds. One source said it was a punishment for criminals in Ceylon. Left for days, the bamboo shoots grow up and right through the victim.
The most popular version of the story suggests it was used by the Japanese during WWII. Even if there are few reports of it happening to Allies, the other references to it and the fact it can really happen certainly lend it some credence.
3. The Stasi Engaged in a Psychological Torture Called Zersetzung
From 1950 to 1990 the Stasi were East Germany’s secret police, an all around terrible organization that engaged in espionage, kidnapping and all manners of psychological warfare under the guise of stamping out Nazism in Germany. One of their most unbelievable tactics was a psychological torture called zersetzung. It translates to something like “decomposition” or “biodegradation” and was an elaborate gaslighting technique.
Some of the process involved spreading rumors. Believable ones, nothing too out there, but also ones that couldn’t be refuted. This was to ruin credibility. They would organize “professional and social disappointments.” If you were waiting for permits and paperwork, you’d discovered it was late or even misfiled. If you wanted a job, they would tell the potential employer lies to ensure you didn’t get it.
Personal damage could come as making it look like you’re cheating on a spouse, maybe. And one of the final phases made you feel like you were going crazy. They’d secretly break into your house and move things. They’d steal your socks, move some of your furniture, or stop your clocks.
2. Saddam Hussein was Tortured by Making Him Watch the South Park Movie
During the time of the first Gulf War no one in the world was more infamous than Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The dictator was finally captured by US forces and taken into custody in 2003. It wasn’t until 2006 that he was executed however, and in the three years he was in custody the man was tortured in one of the most bizarre ways imaginable.
Let’s go back to 1999. That was the year South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut came out. Hussein was one of the characters in that film and he has a toxic, sexual relationship with Satan because that’s how South Park works.
When US forces had Hussein in custody, someone came up with the idea to show him the movie. Then they showed it to him again and again. There’s no word on what he thought of his depiction as being both gay and worse than Satan, but it’s probably safe to assume he wasn’t a fan.
As for the creators of South Park, the army gifted them with a signed Saddam Hussein photo.
1. A School in the US is Legally Allowed to Shock Students
Most torture victims are people who the torturer deemed worthy of that torture. They “deserved it,” so to speak. But sometimes you hear of an even more insidious kind of torture, one conducted on someone innocent, for the sadistic pleasures of the torturer. This one seems to be closer to that because the justification for this being needed is very hard to swallow.
In the US, right now, there is a facility called the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center. It is a private residential school and many of the students there are autistic or have developmental and emotional issues. The school uses a GED or graduated electronic decelerator on students. It sends an electric shock through the skin by way of electrodes wired to a battery and it can be controlled remotely by a teacher.
One student described being eight years old and getting hooked up to the device. They attacked electrodes to his legs that were connected to a car battery. The car battery was placed in a backpack he had to wear. If he misbehaved, the teacher would press a button and shock him.
In 2020 the FDA banned the device but the school appealed and actually won, because it was outside the FDA’s authority and the device is medical in nature. The school defends this by saying it’s a last resort and those who get it are at risk of grievous bodily harm or even death without it. They claim it curbs aggression and self harm.