Observing the exuberant competitiveness of Brazilian politics in 1986, one might find it hard to imagine that this vital country of 134 million people is just emerging from 20 years of dictatorship. The campaign cliches that would sell candidates as blithely as soap offer no clues as to what has been so recently endured or to what is at stake. That is why "Torture in Brazil" is so timely and so important.
The book's purpose is revealed more readily in its Portuguese edition title, "Brazil, Nunca Mais" (Brazil: Never Again). As editor Joan Dassin notes in her introduction to the English-language edition, that purpose is to "ensure that the violence, the infamy, the injustice and the persecution of Brazil's recent past should never again be repeated."
"Torture in Brazil" is not the first book to deal with this grisly subject. Since the 1966 publication of "Torturas e Torturados" (Tortures and the Tortured) by politician and journalist Marcio Moreira Alves, many such studies have appeared. But this latest contribution amasses the most comprehensive accounting of human rights abuses and offers irrefutable proof of the centrality of torture to the military justice system.
The book summarizes the findings in a 7,000-page report prepared over a five-year period by a team of 35 researchers. Sponsored by Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, archbishop of Sao Paulo, and coordinated by Presbyterian minister Dr. Jaime Wright, the project draws upon more than 1 million pages of records of military court proceedings between 1964 and 1979. It records the testimony of 1,843 political prisoners, documents 283 types of torture, locates 242 clandestine torture centers, and identifies 444 individual torturers.