The strappado, also known as corda, is a form of torture wherein the victim's hands are tied behind his or her back and suspended by a rope attached to the wrists, typically resulting in dislocated shoulders. Weights may be added to the body to intensify the effect and increase the pain. This kind of torture would generally not last more than an hour, without rest, as it would likely result in death.
Other names for strappado include "reverse hanging", "Palestinian hanging" (although it is not used by the Palestinian Authority) and il tormento della corda. Historically, it was used by the medieval Inquisition and many governments, such as the civil law court (1543-1798) of the Order of St. John at the Castellania in Valletta, Malta.
The proper strappado causes permanent visible damage. Pain and resistance are different from person to person, generally due to the weight of the person himself/herself or the weight attached. It is not, as Samuel Johnson erroneously entered in his dictionary, a "chastisement by blows".
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There are three variants of this torture. In the first, the victim has his or her arms tied behind their back; a large rope is then tied to the wrists and passed over a pulley, beam, or a hook on the roof. The torturer pulls on this rope until the victim is hanging from the arms. Since the hands are tied behind the victim's back, this will cause a very intense pain and possible dislocation of the arms. The full weight of the subject's body is then supported by the extended and internally rotated shoulder sockets. While the technique shows no external injuries, it can cause long-term nerve, ligament, or tendon damage. The technique typically causes brachial plexus injury, leading to paralysis or loss of sensation in the arms.
The second variation, known as squassation, is similar to the first, but a series of drops are added, meaning that the victim is allowed to drop until his or her fall is suddenly checked by the rope. In addition to the damage caused by the suspension, the painful jerk would cause major stress to the extended and vulnerable arms, leading to broken shoulders. It is believed that Niccolò Machiavelli, during his 1513 imprisonment after allegedly conspiring against the Medici family in Florence, was subjected to this form of strappado.
In the third variant, the victim's hands are tied to the front. The victim is also hung from the hands, but the ankles are tied and a heavy weight is attached to them. This will cause pain and possible damage not only to the arms, but also to the legs and hips.
According to William Godwin, Girolamo Savonarola was tortured by strappado multiple times before being put to death in a trial by fire; Savonarola, however, apparently renounced his confessions after being tortured, which eventually led to his sentence of burning at the stake. This device was thought to be used during the Salem Witch Trials of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 to torture accused witches.
In the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, prisoners were punished by having their hands tied behind their back, and then being suspended on a pole with their feet just above the ground for half an hour. This was also systematically used in Dachau Concentration Camp for infringement of camp rules. Originally the punishment used tree branches, but it was moved into a shower room on special poles so that victims could not relieve the pain as they could by using the tree. Holocaust survivor Jean Améry writes of his own experiences of strappado when being tortured at the Nazi concentration camp of Fort Breendonk in occupied Belgium. Améry's analytical descriptions of the torture were included in a number of works by the writer W. G. Sebald (notably the novel Austerlitz).
The "ropes" was one of several torture methods employed at the Hỏa Lò Prison, popularly known as the Hanoi Hilton. The site was used by the North Vietnamese Army to house, torture and interrogate captured servicemen, mostly American airmen shot down during bombing raids (including USAF officer Joseph Kittinger, and US Navy pilot [and later US Senator] John McCain). The aim of the torture was usually not acquiring military information; rather, it was to break the will of the prisoners, both individually and as a group, and to get written or recorded statements from the prisoners who criticized U.S. conduct of the war and praised how the North Vietnamese treated them.
According to a 1997 Human Rights Watch report, this technique was "widely employed" by the security forces of Turkey, where it is "usually used together with high-pressure water, electric shock, beating, or sexual harassment such as squeezing the testicles or breast or placing a nightstick against or in the vagina or anus". In 1996, the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey guilty of torture for its use of reverse hanging. Turkey has been admonished by Amnesty International and other international human rights groups concerning the use of the technique.
In 2003, one of the Bulgarian nurses interrogated during the HIV trial in Libya, Snezhana Dimitrova, stated that she had been tortured in this way.
"They tied my hands behind my back. Then they hung me from a door. It feels like they are stretching you from all sides. My torso was twisted and my shoulders were dislocated from their joints from time to time. The pain cannot be described. The translator was shouting, 'Confess or you will die here.'"
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