Torture and the Trial

The Amboyna conspiracy trial became a source of bitter dispute when news of what had happened reached Europe in May 1624. For centuries, English and Dutch writers have traded blows over the guilt or innocence of the alleged conspirators and the positions taken by the two sides are explored in the What’s your verdict section of the site. One reason why the controversy has continued for so long was because the trial was so badly botched and the presiding legal official, the Advocate-fiscal Issaq de Bruyn, has come under intense criticism. A second reason for this ongoing controversy centers on the use of torture to extract confessions and the case has a striking contemporary resonance as it involves the first use of the ‘torture by water’ or waterboarding in a major international legal case. The two sides fought over the legality and the efficacy of waterboarding in a way that would anticipate the ferocious debate that played out over techniques of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation’ that were authorized by the Bush administration and deployed at Guantanamo and other CIA sites around the globe.

Documents & Topics

The Advocate-Fiscal
The Dutch East India Company struggled to recruit qualified legal personnel willing to undertake the long sea voyage to Asia. This was a key factor in this case, where the senior legal official, Isaaq de Bruyn badly botched proceedings, sparking centuries of controversy.
Law and Torture in the Dutch Empire
Torture was legal in the Dutch Republic as it was across continental Europe in this period and there were clear rules prescribing its use. But it was also the case that these procedures were not always followed, especially in the remote edges of the Dutch empire.
The Torture By Water
Amboyna is a case about torture and it hinges on a disturbingly familiar technique. Described as the ‘torture by water’ in contemporary sources, it is now more commonly known to us as waterboarding.
Defending Torture
When challenged, Dutch East India Company officials were compelled to defend the use, legality and efficacy of waterboarding. They did so by making a familiar argument that was used again in 2002 by the Bush administration.