In This Review

Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran
Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran
By Ervand Abrahamian
University of California Press, 1999, 284 pp

Abrahamian has often linked his studies on Iran to broader themes: witness his articles "The Crowd in Iranian History" or "The Paranoid Style in Iranian Politics." Here again, he places the Iranian case in a larger context by discussing the methods of imprisonment, torture, and (often) execution of political prisoners in Iran, first under the Pahlavis and then in the Islamic Republic since 1979. The Pahlavis were cruel enough, but only the Islamic Republic forcibly extracted public recantations -- a practice that put it in a league with Europe's Inquisition, Stalin's Soviet Union, and Mao's China. Tortured confessions were routinely aired on television until the late 1980s, when public skepticism finally undercut their utility to the regime. The author has combed all available sources, including public and clandestine party tracts, official Iranian statements, and Amnesty International reports. He fuses judicious selections from prison memoirs with insightful comparisons to the prison-literature genre and a careful account of the ebb and flow of imprisonment and torture (the end of the Iran-Iraq War ushered in the worst period of executions since 1979). Tortured Confessions offers both the somber readability of a Darkness at Noon and the documented detail of an investigative report.