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A gruesome legal case turned Voltaire into a crusader for the innocent (theparisreview.org)
83 points by drjohnson on Apr 19, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments



The first form—“The Question Ordinaire,” as it was labeled—called for an elaborate pulling of limbs: “With his wrists tied tightly to a bar behind him, Calas was stretched by a system of cranks and pulleys that steadily drew his arms up while an iron weight kept his feet in place.” But Calas did not confess.

The second form—or, “The Question Extraordinaire”—might sound familiar, having been much in the news in recent years. Calas’s mouth was forced open with two sticks. Then came the water, pitcher after pitcher. “His head was held low and a cloth placed over his mouth and on the cloth a funnel,” is how one author described this torture. “His nose was pinched, but from time to time released, then water was slowly poured through the funnel on to the cloth which was sucked in by the suffocating man.” Still, Calas did not confess.

We have not progressed much. And from the order of the punishments, at least they understood that threat of death is worse than threat of injury.


Is this a typo?

"at least they understood that threat of death is worse than threat of injury"

Surely you meant to write the opposite? As we've all been told, over and over again, at least since it became clear that President Bush was encouraging torture, is the old slogan "death is what you wish for when you are being tortured."

Personally, given a choice between a quick, painless death and some of the worst kinds of torture, I would always chose death. Rather death than, say, being tied tightly in a chair while someone takes some nails and a hammer and hammers the nails through my hand, or being bound so I can not move and then having rats allowed to eat my face and eyeballs.


Surely you meant to write the opposite? As we've all been told, over and over again, at least since it became clear that President Bush was encouraging torture, is the old slogan "death is what you wish for when you are being tortured."

Intuitive belief in that torture extract useful intelligence rather than that the prisoners will say anything in order to stop the torture.

This is all for the quest of never ever letting another 9/11 attack happens.


It probably depends on the method. With waterboarding you pass out, they wake you up and waterboard you more, you pass out again, they wake you again, waterboard you some more, pass out again, wake you up, repeat over the course of tens of hours. You might lose some brain cells but it's more psychological than permanent. And maybe you know that.

Compare that to extracting an eye, a second eye, a tongue... cutting off an ear, a nose, fingers, destroying your knee cartilage, cutting your Achilles tendon?

So it sounds like torture was institutionalized in France in the 1700s much like it is in the u.s. now, and that less permanent forms of torture were accepted, much like it is now in the u.s.

So, I think I'd first take these institutionalized forms of torture, then death, then the more gruesome and permanent forms of torture.


They are still permanent, you likely don't walk out of CIA black sites and have any kind of normal life again. If PTSD affects volunteer soldiers badly enough to require long term treatment what does being subjected to repeated torture designed by unethical psychologists and MDs do to somebody.


Are you implying that “The Question Ordinaire,” didn't have permanent effects?

I doubt that, as it looks fairly similar to what a rack does (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rack_(torture))


Somewhat similar scenes of injustice are taking place in colleges in USA today. Courts composed of administrators without law training are judging using Preponderance of the Evidence as standard of proof instead of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, without appeals and without ability to being represented by professional lawyer. And victims of this kangaroo courts are selected on basis of gender.

At least no torture is involved. That's a victory! /s


> With its formal finding of a wrongful execution, the case became exhibit No. 1 in what has emerged as a key argument against the death penalty—that sometimes, we misfire.

Years ago I read a column by the late, great Auberon Waugh that convinced me that this argument, though well-intentioned, is at best ancillary and at worst wrong-headed:

> [J]udicial execution can never cancel or remove the atrocity it seeks to punish; it can only add a second atrocity to the original one.

> [A] few innocent men and women will always suffer, but I do not think that has ever been a very serious objection to the principle of capital punishment. Innocent men and women are just as likely to fall down a manhole which has been left uncovered. There is almost no end to the list of unpleasant things which can happen to an innocent man or woman ... but blame must attach to the negligent man-hole coverer, balcony builder, to the stupid or cruel judge rather than to the manhole principle, the balcony system, the idea of the death penalty.

> The main objection to killing people as a punishment is not, as I say, that innocent people will be killed. It is that killing people is wrong.... So long as one sees killing as wrong there is no need to waste time with the deterrent argument, since it would be nonsense to try to prevent a theoretical evil in the future by perpetrating an actual one in the present.

-- http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/17th-june-1978/6/anot...


I agree that there is high probability of 1-2 (more even?) in every 100 hanged being innocent. I also agree that this doesn't make any meaningful difference to the argument for capital punishment.

When the argument against it is simply "we're not good enough at judging when to use it", then you aren't rejecting the concept - simply the execution of it[1]. Which means that some bright spark comes up with the most absurd set of safeguards, appeals systems etc to try and overcome the objection - and the end result is death row.

Does any punishment truly act as a deterrent? Should we instead be upset by the underlying societal issues? What proportion of crime is truly a free choice? Once the damage is done to the perpetrator can you ever truly rehabilitate everyone. Does everyone even deserve a change at rehabilitation? Are the costs of perpetual incarceration acceptable?

I'm not even close to having strong answers for all of my vague questions. I do know that I disagree with the articles key point though - killing a person is wrong as an absolute unquestionable moral position. It doesn't stand up in my opinion.

[1]I'm not even that sorry. I simply couldn't resist.




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