Just closed the Instruments of Torture exhibition at the Freedom Tower. Displays of torture equipment are popular tourist traps around Europe, but this was somewhat more upscale, on loan from the Museo Medieval in Italy and with many pieces from “private collections.” There was also a decidedly political bent to the exhibitions, and the informational panels never missed a chance to say that “It still goes on today!!!”
The charming thing in the first photo above is called a Knee Spliter. This thing is called a Head Crusher. We’re told “The victim’s chin is placed on the lower bar and the cap is forced down by the screw. The result is fatal. The teeth are crushed into the sockets of surrounding bone. Pressure is continued until the brain squirts through the fragmented skull. Head crushers are still in use today in interrogation. Today, however, modern caps and chin rests are padded with soft materials so as to leave no mark on the victim.”
We are also treated to about a dozen of these life-sized dioramas. By the way, these photos are crappy because (a) everything was lit real dramatic/dark-like, and (b) photography was prohibited, so i had to use my iTelephone.
Just a regular ol’ electric chair, exactly like the one still in use in Florida today.
Almost half the exhibit deals with the Inquisition, which after the medieval stuff seems sort of tame? I mean, they had all these rules about how much they could beat your ass, and how long they could burn your feet, and how much hot oil they could pour down your mouth or whatever. In any case, you wound up being burned. If you recanted and admitted your evil, they’d slit your throat before burning you. If not, you burned alive. Charming.
I didn’t get a good photo of the waterboarding display, but the text panel is worth quoting at length:
In some cases, victims showed such physical endurance that not even the worst atrocities were able to change their minds and simply resisted collaboration; however, in other cases very little torture was necessary for the defendant to reach a state of exhaustion and bewilderment which allowed him or her to confess anything, even a crime he did not commit just because of the fear of being subjected to something worse. One of the most suvere punishments was to be put under Water Torture.
In this torture, otherwise referred to as the “Tormento de Toca” in Spanish, the prisoner was tied up, kept still on his back stretched over the top of a table or wooden plank and gagged with a linen rag down the throat. The victim was later asphyxiated by the executioner and forced to swallow huge amounts of water through a funnel stuck in the mouth, provoking the prisoner a drowning sensation. This resulted in an over inflated and grotesque stomach, which the executioner stuck repeatedly with no mercy. The pressure against the diaphragm and heart caused unimaginable states of suffering.
Sometimes the accompanying drawings are more fun then the item itself. Take the body saw. They hang you by your feet and start sawing between your legs. Since your head continues to receive blood, you stay alive until they get to somewhere between your belly button and your chest.
This one is just for fun! If you were generally a pain in the ass, they chain you up in the town square with this thing, and people laugh at you, or maybe throw things or beat you with sticks if they think you deserve it. For drunks, you might be put in a bucket of excrement with your head sticking out for a day or two.
The chastity belt. Apparently it’s not what you think, and women would voluntarily lock themselves into these when their man was away, for fear of being raped.
Chair thing. There were a bunch of these, along with a dramatic reconstructed iron maiden. I guess the overall lesson is that people sure are creative.
Ok, let’s do one more diabolical one and leave it be. This pretty thing is called the Oral, Rectal, and Vaginal Pear. It’s Venetian! You force it into someone’s mouth, and turn the screw to expand the thing, mutilating the inside of whatever cavity it’s in. Note the spikes on the ends. The oral treatment was for heretical preachers, the rectal for homosexual, and the vaginal for “women guilty of sexual union with Satan or his familiars”
Just outside the exhibition, a table for Amnesty International, where you can sign a petition or pick up a postcard to mail to Barack Obama imploring him to ensure accountability for U.S. torture.