Exactly What Is Torture


Medieval Torture RackMedieval Torture Rack

Source: The Duck Shoot

Ask the question “exactly what is torture?” and most people will proffer an answer. But the mental picture conjured up in your audiences mind will probably differ from person to person. The medieval rack and thumbscrew will come to the minds of many of course but while most of the ancient methods are no longer used they have been replaced with equally heinous practices in modern times. Water-boarding by the United States Secret Service being one exception that has been reborn in recent times.

If you are a citizen of the USA or Europe don’t be too quick with a smug “not where I live”. The “war on terror” announced by the Bush administration saw International law ignored and many medieval-style tortures employed on mostly completely innocent people. Not that it is OK to torture the guilty you understand.  Human rights took a turn for the worse with the emergence of the phony “war on terror”.

Even if European countries didn’t actually engage in torture they stood by and did nothing to stop it. Europe was also used for the extraordinary rendition flights that saw hundreds if not thousands of prisoners taken to secret torture prisons via European airports. The British certainly are guilty of torture and other human rights abuses in Iraq and the British Government and the British Secret Service were present at US torture facilities when British citizens were being tortured.

Middle East and North African countries practice torture. China, Burma and Russia still torture their citizens, there are many more.

So, again “exactly what is torture”?

In short, torture is inflicting pain on a living being for one’s own pleasure or to force them to bow to your will. The long answer is of course far more complex than that.

Torture is often inflicted on humans and animals for gratuitous pleasure or as an instrument of force. Personally, I cannot see how anyone enjoys inflicting pain and suffering on another living being and I suspect torturers are all self-seeking perverts.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss or promote or condone consensual sadomasochistic torture. Provided the players are adults and are all willing participants then that is a matter for them.

By torture I am referring to a situation where sufferers experience pain unwillingly at the hands of a person or persons who are forcing them to comply to the will of the torturer.

The dictionary defines torture as follows:

  • Anguish: extreme mental distress
  • Unbearable physical pain
  • Agony: intense feelings of suffering; acute mental or physical pain
  • Torment: torment emotionally or mentally
  • The deliberate, systematic, or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons in an attempt to force another person to yield information or to make a confession or for any other reason
  • Torture for the sadistic gratification of the torturer

International Law

The United Nations Convention Against Torture is absolutely clear that the use of torture by governments and government agents is illegal. It requires that Member States include the Convention into their National justice system. But it goes further, the Convention makes torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment illegal in countries that have not signed the Convention as well.

Here’s Article 1, parts 1 & 2.

1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application.

To read the Convention in full click this link.

Amnesty International publishes a Fair Trials Manual that sets out a very clear definition of torture as prescribed by both International and National law. Here is an except:

Torture
Torture is defined in the Convention against Torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.” Such sanctions must, however, be lawful under both national and international standards. The Convention against Torture states: “Torture constitutes an aggravated and deliberate form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
The Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment states that the term “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” should be interpreted “so as to extend the widest possible protection against abuses, whether physical or mental, including the holding of a detained or imprisoned person in conditions which deprive him, temporarily or permanently, of the use of any of his natural senses, such as sight or hearing, or of his awareness of place and the passing of time”

Taser Torture
Instruments of torture are not always obvious because they are carried by police or military personnel. In some countries they can be legally owned for purposes of “self-defence” also. I am referring here to stun guns as they used to be called before they became popular with police forces and Taser International became the preferred supplier.

Should other weapons employed by civil authorities such as pepper spray and CS gas be classified as instruments of torture?

Read more on Human Rights: Exactly What Is Torture?

 

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