The strappado, also known as corda, is a form of torture in which the victim's hands are tied behind their back and the victim is 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 otherwise likely result in death.
Other names for strappado include "reverse hanging", "Palestinian hanging" and il tormento della corda. It was employed 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 application of the strappado technique causes permanent but not visible damage. The levels of pain and resistance vary by victim depending on the victim's weight and any additional weights added to the body. It is not, as Samuel Johnson erroneously entered in A Dictionary of the English Language, a "chastisement by blows."
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There are three variants of this torture. In the first, victims have their arms tied behind their backs; 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 this form of strappado was employed on Niccolò Machiavelli during his 1513 imprisonment after allegedly conspiring against the Medici family in Florence, who were also his primary patrons.
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 ordeal (fire). However, Savonarola apparently renounced his confessions after being tortured, and he was sentenced to be burned at the stake. This device was thought to be used during the Salem witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 to torture accused witches.
The "ropes" was one of several torture methods employed at the Hỏa Lò Prison, popularly known among Americans as the Hanoi Hilton during the 1964-1973 era of the Vietnam War. The site was used by the North Vietnamese Army to house, torture and interrogate captured servicemen, mostly American airmen shot down during bombing raids. The aim of the torture was usually not to acquire information, but to break the will of the prisoners, both individually and as a group, and to extract written or recorded statements from the prisoners that would be critical of American conduct of the war and praise their captors.
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 molestation 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".
In November 2003, suspected terrorist Manadel al-Jamadi was tortured to death at Abu Ghraib prison during a Central Intelligence Agency interrogation by members of the U.S. military. It was revealed in February 2005 that al-Jamadi had died after 30 minutes of interrogation, during which he was suspended by the wrists bound behind his back.
Richard Belmar has stated that he was repeatedly subjected to this torture method as a punishment during his extrajudicial detention at the Parwan Detention Facility in Afghanistan from 2002–2005.
In March 2023, the European Court of Human Rights found Ukraine in violation of the prohibition against torture, alleging that police made use of strappado to coerce prisoner Mykola Slyvotskyy into falsely confessing his guilt for two murders that another person had previously confessed to committing.
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The prisoner died in a position known as 'Palestinian hanging,' documents reviewed by The AP showed.
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Mysteriously, this method is commonly called 'Palestinian hanging' today, although torture monitors say it is used by neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority.
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In the case of Klimov and Slyvotskyy v. Ukraine, ECHR considered two applications involving allegations of ill-treatment by the police in order to extract false self-incriminating statements, and of ineffective investigation into their complaints. It found that Ukraine had violated Article 3 of the European Convention, namely the prohibition of torture, in both cases. The judgement explains that, according to Slyvotskyy, he was taken on 3 November 2003 to a forest, where several officers from the Voznesensk police 'subjected him to "Palestinian hanging", threatened to torture his relatives, punched and kicked him, and pressed pistols against his forehead in order to force him to confess to a murder.'