U.S. Torture Policy
Mission Statement: As of today, most nations of the world will torture in order to protect themeselves from outside threats. The United States is included in this group, and the torturing of prisoners by the U.S. is a horrendous act that needs to be stopped.

Table Of Contents
A. What is Torture?
B. History of Torture
C. Cause of Torture
D. Torture techniques
E. Perpatrators
F. U.N. policy on torture
G. United States and torture
H. International attempts to help

What is Torture?
The basic definition of torture is contained in the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment:

"... '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." [1]

Simply put, torture is the use of physical or mental pain in order to gain information, control a person or group of people, or as a form of punishment. It is used to break the will or dehumanize the subject in order to achieve a desired goal by the toturer.

History of Torture


Torture has been in use for at least 2,000 years. The use of torture has been recorded throughout history, through the Greek and Roman empires, and ended up flourishing in the middle ages when the Catholic Church employed torture in order to obtain confessions. In England, during the time of the Tudors, torture reached new levels, especially under Queen Elizabeth, when torture was used more than any other time in history.

Reasons Behind Torture


People are tortured for various reasons.

Punishment: Used as retribution for comitting a crime, torture effectively punishes an individual for a wrong-doing. Though not employed (legally) in modern day, torture was used regularly in history.

Extracting Information: Torture is used to coerce the information out of a subject. The physical/psychological pain that a torturer puts a person through is used to get an otherwise uncooperative subject to reveal information to the torturer.

Controlling People: Holding the threat of torture a means of controlling a person or group of people can be an effective tactic. By torturing or threatening to torture a person, a torturer can make a person or group of people do as they say for fear of having the person tortured again. It is very similar to blackmail.

Torture Techniques

Historical: There are a large number of methods of torture in history. Some of the more infamous ones include coffin torture, the pillory, and the chair of torture. Torture was a way of life in history, and criminals were normally suspect to specific forms of torture for certain crimes.


For a more indepth look at historical forms of torture, follow this link: http://www.medievality.com/torture.html
Modern: Present day torturing, though illegal, still exists. Torture in general has evolved with the times. This article from Boston Globe sums it up well:

"In recent times states have outlawed open spectacles of torture, and torture has ceased to be an exhibit of kingly power. But its basic uses remain the same: extracting information, forcing false confessions, and keeping prisoners docile and compliant.

So torture hasn't really disappeared in the modern age. What have disappeared are forms of torture that leave marks. The police, military investigators, and governments in democratic societies can count on the press and people watching. They know that if a prisoner can't show any marks of torture, people are far less likely to believe his or her story. So as societies have become more open, the art of torture has crept underground and evolved into the chilling new forms - often undetectable - that define torture today.

Take electrotorture. In the early days of electric power, most authorities avoided using electricity for torture because it was too dangerous: it tended to kill its victims, and dead subjects yield no information. But in 1899, two research teams, one American and one Swiss, correctly identified the biological processes that caused electrical death. This knowledge proved to be critical: A proper torture device, it appeared, had to deliver painful high voltages with low amperage." [2]


The United States, as well as most other nations, are guilty of torturing prisoners. Below is a grouping of factions of said nations that are normally involved in the torturing process.
Those most likely to be involved in torture and other forms of ill-treatment are:
• the police
• the military
• paramilitary forces
• state-controlled contra-guerrilla forces
But perpetrators may also include:
• prison officers
• death squads
• any government official
• health professionals
• co-detainees acting with the approval or on the orders of public officials
In the context of armed conflicts, torture and other forms of ill-treatment could also be inflicted by:
• opposition forces
• the general population [1]

International Policy On Torture:
Article five of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, found here, states that:

"No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." [3]

The basis of the Universal Declaration is that all countries should strive to meet the human rights goals set by the declaration. In short, it is a nation's duty to uphold these rights to the best of their abilities.

Regardless of this recognized declaration, different nations feel differently about torture, shown in the graph below.


United States and Torture:
The United States is a perpetrator of torturing suspected terrorists and other high profile prisoners in order to extract information. The U.S. uses what it calls "enhanced" interrogation techniques, as well as using poorly defined clauses in the Geneva Convention (found here) ruling on torture to justify torture.


For example, Article 1 states that it has to be intentional to be considered torture. A torturer could claim that they didn't intend to cause the victim pain, and thus would exempt them from the crime of torture. Another example is Article 2, which states that a state will prevent acts of torture in territory under its jurisdiction. Guantanamo Bay is a perfect example of the United States using this clause to avoid responsibility for what happens there.

Outsourcing torture to other countries to avoid accusations of torture is another practice of the U.S., which is higlighted in this Google Earth Tour.

Listed below are some techniques the U.S. has been known to use on prisoners. The full article can be found here.

Psychological Torture:

The number one criterion for American torture is that it must leave no physical marks, and psychological torture certainly qualifies. Whether U.S. officials are threatening to execute a prisoner's family or just falsely claiming that the leader of his terror cell is dead, it's hard to imagine a form of torture that is more effective--or easier to get away with--than a steady diet of misinformation and threats.

Sensory Deprivation:

When you're locked up in a cell, it's already remarkably easy to lose track of time. Eliminate all noise and light sources--or, as was done to the Guantanamo prisoners at one point, simply bind, blindfold, and earmuff a prisoner into temporary oblivion--and life becomes a hellish, sanity-destroying experience. Whether prisoners subjected to long-term sensory deprivation can still tell fiction from reality is, of course, another question.

Starvation and Thirst:

Maslow's hierarchy of needs identifies basic physical needs as the most fundamental--more fundamental than religion, political ideology, or community. A prisoner who is being given enough (unpleasant) food and water to survive, but only just, can go as long as a week before looking physically thinner--but will soon find that his or her life revolves around the quest for food.


Water torture, one of the oldest and most common forms of torture, came to the United States with the first colonists and has cropped up many times since then. In the latest incarnation, waterboarding, a prisoner is strapped down to a board and then dunked in water until nearly drowned, then brought back, gasping, to the surface. The interrogator repeats the procedure until the desired result is obtained.


In this form of torture, sometimes referred to as the "hot box" or simply as "the box," the prisoner is locked up in a small, hot room which, due to lack of ventilation, essentially functions as an oven. When the prisoner cooperates, he or she is finally released. Long used as a form of torture within the United States (most recently against one Alabama activist in 1998), it is particularly effective in the arid Middle East.

Sexual Abuse and Humiliation:

Various forms of sexual abuse and humiliation documented in U.S. prisons include forced nudity, forcible smearing of menstrual blood on prisoners' faces, forced lapdances, forced transvestitism, and forced homosexual acts on other prisoners. These abuses and alleged abuses should be considered in light of the fact that most detainees are deeply religious Muslims, and many are married. [4]


International attempts at help:
A number of groups are attempting to stop the torturing. Links to their websites are listed below.
Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org/
The OMCT: http://www.omct.org/
Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/

Below is an ad from Amnesty International speaking out against waterboarding.

Taking Action:
Though a lofty goal, ending torture isn't impossible. There are already groups out there trying to bring about an end to this horrid practice. Supporting any of the organizations listed above, taking action into your own hands and talking to your representative, or raising awarness of the issue can make a difference. It is up to us to bring about an end to torturing once and for all.

[1] "Defining Torture." IRCT. IRCT, Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://www.irct.org/what-is-torture/defining-torture.aspx.
[2] Rejali , Darius. "Torture, American style." Boston Globe 16 Dec 2007: 1-4. Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2007/12/16/torture_american_style/?page=2.
[3] "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights." United Nations. United Nations, Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/.

[4] Head, Tom. "American Torture Techniques." About.com. 2009. About.com, Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://civilliberty.about.com/od/waronterror/p/torturelite.htm.

"Defining Torture." IRCT. IRCT, Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://www.irct.org/what-is-torture/defining-torture.aspx.

Rejali , Darius. "Torture, American style." Boston Globe 16 Dec 2007: 1-4. Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2007/12/16/torture_american_style/?page=2

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights." United Nations. United Nations, Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/.

Head, Tom. "American Torture Techniques." About.com. 2009. About.com, Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://civilliberty.about.com/od/waronterror/p/torturelite.htm .

"CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment." Human Rights. 23 Jan. 1997. Human Rights, Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cat.html.

Ross, Brian, and Brian Esposito. "CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described." ABC News 18 Nov. 2005: n. pag. Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/Investigation/story?id=1322866.

"Background Information on Close Guantanamo and End Torture for Good." Amnesty International USA. 2009. Amnesty International USA, Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://www.amnestyusa.org/counter-terror-with-justice/torture/background-information-on-close-guantanamo-and-end-torture-for-good/page.do?id=1551090.

"Global Torture Ban Under Threat." Human Rights Watch. 11 May 2005. Humand Rights Watch, Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2005/05/11/global-torture-ban-under-threat

McCoy, Alfred. "Political paralysis over torture." Asia Times 10 Jun. 2009: 1-2. Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/KF10Ak01.html .

"Medieval Torture." Medieval Times and Castles. 09 Nov. 2008. Medieval Times and Castles, Web. 13 Dec 2009. http://www.medievality.com/torture.html.

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