During medieval times, torturers and executioners stood at the bottom of the social and professional hierarchy, comparable to the Untouchables of India. Due to the nature of their job, village executioners were lonely men frowned upon by their neighbours.

Today, executions are (at least in the US) carried out by "normal people" or policemen who are (sometimes randomly) chosen for the task and receive a sum of money for pulling the lever that closes the circuit of an electric chair, pressing the buttons to commence a lethal injection or per stroke or lash handed out in the case of corporal punishment. Saudi Arabia employs one (semi-)professional executioner who knows how to yield a sword but was not necessarily trained to become an executioner right after finishing school and did not just "choose" this profession. Firing squad executions are often carried out by the military (because no special training is needed) and the few torturers working for the CIA or any given terrorist organization usually get "trained on the job" with little theoretical instruction as far as I know.

Because most executions and tortures carried out today are simple when compared to the medieval times (shooting, electric shocks or cutting off arms with kitchen knives) and the rarity of those occurences, there is de facto no official profession of "Executioner" or "Torturer" anymore, with few exceptions.

Not let's go on to my fictional dictatorship: in this country, executions and tortures are carried out on a daily basis; the official and secret police take the role of the Inquisition. The list of crimes punishable by death is long; lesser offences draw flogging or mutilation (amputation of arms/legs, gouging of the eyes, branding, etc...). The methods are deliberately chosen to be gruesome and gory - while executions are usually made to be as quick and humane as possible and "soft torture", which leaves no or little marks, is becoming popular among various organizations in the real world, the justice system of my country employs acid baths, boiling water, slow dissection akin to "Death by a Thousand Cuts", the breaking wheel and scaphism only to name some. These procedures are usually carried out in public.

My question is:

  • What would the profession of Torturer or Executioner consist of in the modern world? Would one profession suffice or will different fields of specialization arise (name some!)?

  • What skills, character traits and knowledge are required?

  • How would torturers or executioners be trained, considering the fact that they would employ modern medical knowledge to intensify and prolong the suffering of their victims? Should those wishing to take up this profession rather be prepared by vocational training or university or a combination of both? I imagine that training suffices for normal or assistant torturers whereas those who wish to develop torture or execution methods will have to attend university.

  • Would this profession be respected? If not, what can be done to remove the stigma and popularize it among the youth?


closed as unclear what you're asking by Aify, AndreiROM, Liath, Hohmannfan, Mołot Mar 6 '17 at 19:39

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  • $\begingroup$ I think that last bullet is tricky. There are very good reasons that a torturer is not a "popular profession." There are some things it does to your personality that are... well... undesirable. The sort of culture which would celebrate that skillset and personality traits is a very dark culture indeed. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 6 '17 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ What is the primary purpose of the torture? Information retrieval, victim's suffering or public effect? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Mar 6 '17 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @MedwedianPresident you should read The Book of the New Sun series by Gene Wolfe. The main character is a torturer. $\endgroup$ – fiend Mar 6 '17 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ Please, one question per question. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Mar 6 '17 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion I don't know about that; now that the rest of the information has been added, it's very obvious that the question is too broad. $\endgroup$ – Aify Mar 7 '17 at 7:08

Only the ambitious and ideologues will want to be torturers

This question from History.SE covers reasons that people joined the Stasi, the East German secret police.

In general, there are two motivations for getting into such an organization: desire for power, or desire for ideological purity. Assuming you are in the United States (or imagine the scenario in your own country), what people would join the secret police of the Trump dictatorship? Or the Obama dictatorship?

One group of torturer volunteers will want access to power and will do anything to get it. This is how Putin ended up in charge of Russia for almost 2 decades and counting.

Alternately there are people who truly believe in the governing ethos. Is it that hard to imaging people who really don't want immigrants in the United States from joining Dictator Trump's secret police? Or that social progressive Dictator Obama's secret police would attract people who hate evangelicals? Its not that hard to imagine, especially if you read rhetoric on the more extremist parts of internet (note: I do not recommend reading rhetoric from the more extremist parts of the internet). Ideology easily spills into extremism and hate, not matter what ideology you follow, be it anti-LGBT, anti-climate-change, anti-Wall-Street, anti-Muslim, whatever. Once a dictatorship aligns itself with some of these ideologies, then that hate will have an outlet in public expression. Publicly expressed hate, in turn, leads to people becoming torturers.

How to make a tortuerer?

You know, pain is pain. There are a lot of things that hurt, and any of them, applied over a long enough time, suck. You don't have to be particularly creative. To extract information, just give someone a beating with a stick every hour on the hour so they can't sleep. Why even bother making it worse than that, when that will work? Well, as well as it is going to work, anyways.

If you want your torture to be publicly gruesome, just haul them out in public and chop off their digits one by one. Or even better, just crucify them. You have posted some pretty disturbing questions about specific tortures in the past, but why bother? Acid baths and pile of bugs sound expensive. Sometimes the old ways are best. How much do two logs and some nails cost?

I don't see any need to specifically train people as a torturer. Executioner is even easier; after a couple tries you probably get the hang of chopping someone's head off.

Nobody likes the ambitious or the ideologues

Do you really like these people? The ones who will kick you under the bus at work just to get ahead? What about the ideologues: that drunken uncle at Thanksgiving ready to tell you about how blacks are genetically inferior or that radical feminist cousin who you had to un-friend because of all the memes about castrating males? Yeah, nobody likes those people.

But, as we just discussed above, those people are the ones who will be the secret police, the torturers, the executioners, etc. Nobody is going to like those people regardless of their professions (incidentally, probably no non-negligible reason why they become torturers). So, since every torturer or secret policeman you meet is the worst person ever, people will generally have a dim view of them.

There is pretty much no way that secret police or torturers will be respected. At least they are feared, I guess.


I could see a medical and or psych degree being helpful, but I think the job would really require some level of social pathology, specifically a lack of empathy.

Come to think of it... Your torturer may not need any medical background if they can work cooperatively with a medical team. Pretty much the torturer would take the victim apart and the med team would put them back together. If I'm not mistaken this is how modern "advanced interogation" is/was done... The docs put together a "program" and the underlings carry it out.

As for making torture, executions, and related professionals socially acceptable... Honestly I have my doubts... Your best bet is probably going to be secrecy and anonymity. No one wants to live next door to the sociopath that fillets people for money.

"Oh, me? I work on the base in, um, information gathering and asset disposal."

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    $\begingroup$ "I worked in communications" $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 6 '17 at 17:49

If you want public torturous executions as examples you don't really need executioners per se. Use democratic executions like stoning.

Incompetence is a virtue.

Everyone in the group directly suffers.

Your ability to target sympathizers keeps the action moving.

Now the executioner/torturer is just a rabble rouser threatening laggards in the crowd to share the victim's fate. Lots of people like people who stand and shout, many people like being the center of attention and it gives you a practical way of testing political hopefuls. The unpleasantness will just be business as usual after a generation or two anyway.


In my opinion torturer and executioner are two different vocations.

An executioner only has to kill. The best mindset for one would be similar to a soldier following orders. They are not the judge nore the jury, they don't make the decision. They only follow orders, as is there duty. Of couse you would have to think of PTSD. Also anonymity is probably also a good choice.

As for torturer, depending on why the society carries out the torture you may need to look for people with different traits. However if it is mainly for interogation then training should focus on psychology to determine the reaction of the person and only learn medical knowledge for a short time as it isn't really necessary.


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