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See also Criticism of the concept of torture

Torture is the infliction of severe physical or psychological pain as a means of cruelty, intimidation, punishment, for the extraction of a confession or information or simply for the entertainment of the perpetrator. Torture is prohibited by the UN Convention Against Torture and the Third Geneva Convention. It is considered a severe violation of human rights. Despite these conventions torture remains in use throughout the world in several contexts, often shielded by legalistic quibbling about its definition, restrictions on judicial jurisdiction and plausible deniability.[1] Officially sanctioned torture frequently occurs in the context of war or terrorism where it is frequently held to be justified by necessity.[2]

Situational Torture

Torture occurs occasionally even in the best run prison systems due to the powerlessness of the prisoners and the low social status of prison workers. This situational phenomenon is due more to boredom and the vinegar barrel effect than to the inherant evil of the perpetrators. After September 11 the public may imagine this kind of torture is necessary when, in fact, it done for trivial reasons.

Torture is secret

With rare exceptions, torture is and was carried on in secret. Modern professional torturers use techniques such as electrical shock,[3] asphyxiation, heat, cold, noise, and sleep deprivation which "Don't leave a mark on em".[3] Evidence of torture comes only from testimony of witnesses and from rare breaches of discipline as, for example, the untrained and indiscreet amateur photographers of Abu Ghraib prison.

Torture and confession

Persons under torture, with rare exceptions (and then perhaps mainly on TV), will say or do anything to escape the situation including signing confessions to serious crimes they had nothing to do with and implicating other innocent people, who may be tortured to the same effect in turn. The acceptance of confessions without collaborating evidence as sufficient evidence for conviction of a crime is, in practice, an invitation to the use of torture to obtain them. This dynamic marked the Soviet justice system and that of continental Europe generally during medieval and early modern times. England, which required collaborative evidence for conviction of a crime, was generally free of torture and associated phenomena such as the witch-hunting mania which swept Europe.

Use of torture by governments

Torture was used by many governments and countries in the past (especially in the Middle Ages). Especially, torture was believed to be a legitimate way to obtain testimonies and confessions from suspects for use in trials. Still, the use of torture may be ineffective, since tortured suspects will often admit to anything and even invent facts in order to have torture cease. The Inquisition was famous for the use of torture; judicial torture was abolished in France at the beginning of the French revolution.

Torture remains a popular method of repression in totalitarian regimes such as the People's Republic of China[4], terrorist and by organized crime, and is frequently used by democratic governments as well. During the Algerian war of 1955-1962, the French military used torture against National Liberation Front. Paul Aussaresses, a French general during the Algerian war, defended the use of torture in a 2000 interview in the Paris newspaper Le Monde. In an interview on the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes, in response to the question of whether he would torture Al-Qaeda suspects, his answer was, "It seems to me it's obvious."

Torture by the United States

CIA agents have anonymously confirmed to the Washington Post in a December 26, 2002 report that the CIA routinely uses so-called "stress and duress" interrogation techniques, which are claimed by human rights activists to be acts of torture, in the US-led War on Terrorism. These sources state that CIA and military personnel beat up uncooperative suspects, confine them in cramped quarters, duct tape them to stretchers, and use other restraints which maintain the subject in an awkward and painful position for long periods of time.

The Post article continues that sensory deprivation, through the use of hoods and spraypainted goggles, sleep deprivation, and selective use of painkillers for at least one captive who was shot in the groin during his apprehension are also used. The agents also indicate in the report that the CIA as a matter of course hands suspects over to foreign intelligence services with far fewer qualms about torture for more intensive interrogation. The Post reported that one official said, "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job." The US Government denies that torture is being conducted in the detention camps.

In testimony before the United States Senate on March 17, 2005, Porter J. Goss director of the Central Intelligence Agency characterized the techniques used by his agency as professional interrogation techniques and defended their effectiveness [1].

Torture in the United States

Torture which does not involve physical injury to the prisoner was effectively legalized in the United States in 1996 by passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act which prohibits compensation to prisoners for "for mental or emotional injury while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury"[5]. Thus torture techniques or methods of humiliation such as prevention of sleep, waterboarding, forcing the prisoner to crawl like a dog while on a leash, displaying their genitals to members of the opposite sex or other prisoners, the forming of human pyramids of naked prisoners, etc. are not actionable for damages if they occur in an American prison.

Torture may be used by private parties in the United States in order to force compliance of the victim, for example, to obtain a get from an ultra-orthodox Jew for a divorce. Retaining custody of a person while torturing them may be considered kidnapping.[3]

Torture by the United Kingdom

The United Kingdoms forces have been criticised for using torture against IRA suspects during the 1970's. Although primarily non-physiological some methods employed did utilise physical discomfort e.g. seating the prisoner on a block of ice.

Unreliablity of information obtained

The use of torture has been criticized not only on humanitarian grounds, but on the grounds that evidence extracted by torture tends to be extremely unreliable and that the use of torture corrupts institutions which tolerate it. Torture victims have often reported that the purpose is as much to force acquiescence on an enemy as it is to gain information.

Legal restrictions on torture

To prevent torture, many legal systems have a right against self-incrimination. The United States includes this right in the fifth amendment to its constitution, which in turn serves as the basis of the Miranda Warning that is issued to individuals upon their arrest. Additionally, the US Constitution's eighth amendment expressly forbids the use of "cruel and unusual punishments", which is widely interpreted as a prohibition of the use of torture. However these prohibitions may be effectively negated by the passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, except for punishments explicitly set forth during sentencing. Information obtained by use of torture might be inadmissible.

Anti-torture activism

Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, are actively involved in working to stop the use of torture throughout the world.

Torture Devices and Methods

Torture devices

Stress and Distress Tactics used by Police

Some methods imployed by law enforcement and states are seen by some as being tantemount to torture.

Methods of Execution

A method of killing a prisoner for a capital crime, such as Drawing and quartering, which involves, or has the potential to involve, a great deal of pain or mutilation is considered to be torture and unacceptable to many who support capital punishment.

See also: Jacobo Timmerman


  1. "What's in a Word? Torture" opinion by Adam Hochschild in The New York Times May 23, 2004
  2. "’03 U.S. Memo Approved Harsh Interrogations" article by Mark Mazzetti in The New York Times April 2, 2008
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "U.S. Accuses 2 Rabbis of Kidnapping Husbands for a Fee" article by Joseph Goldstein and Michael Schwirtz in The New York Times October 10, 2013
  4. COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE Forty-first session Geneva, 3-21 November 2008
  5. "America's Abu Ghraibs" Column by Bob Herbert in The New York Times May 31, 2004

External links and further Reading

This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Torture.
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This article contains significant unique material and should not be replaced by an imported or updated Wikipedia article. Read more...