One method of torture used in Florentine jails during the glorious days of the Renaissance was the strappado: a prisoner was hoisted into the air by a rope attached to his wrists, which had been tied behind his back, and then suddenly dropped toward the floor as many times as it took to get him to confess. Since the procedure usually dislocated the shoulders, tore the muscles, and rendered one or both arms useless, it is remarkable that Niccolò Machiavelli, after reportedly undergoing six such “drops,” asked for pen and paper and began to write. Machiavelli had nothing to confess.
Thestrappado, has survived through the centuries. It’s known today as the “Palestinian hanging” and was responsible for the death of an Iraqi detainee in C.I.A. custody at Abu Ghraib in 2003. The prisoner was suspended by his arms, which had been shackled behind his back, and died of asphyxiation. Private morality may be presumed to prevail again when the country is strong and secure, although Machiavelli, unlike those who offer such consolation, admitted that the nature of mankind makes it unlikely that there ever will be such a time. “I love my country more than my own soul,” Machiavelli wrote, yet a full assessment of his work makes that decision far from clear. Then, as now, it is a terrible choice. Read full review at The New Yorker.