Torture in recent times

Uses of torture in recent times

Torture, the infliction of severe physical or psychological pain upon an individual to extract information, a confession or as a punishment, is prohibited by international law and illegal in most countries. However, it is still used by many governments. This article describes uses of torture in recent times, that is to say, the use of torture since the adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which prohibited it.

Torture in modern society

Torture is widely practiced worldwide: Amnesty International received reports of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in more than 150 countries during the four year period from 1997 to 2000. These accusations concerned acts against political prisoners in 70 countries and other prisoners and detainees in more than 130 countries. State torture has been extensively documented and studied, often as part of efforts at collective memory and reconciliation in societies that have experienced a change in government. Surveys of torture survivors reveal that torture "is not aimed primarily at the extraction of information ... Its real aim is to break down the victim's personality and identity." When applied indiscriminately, torture is used as a tool of repression and deterrence against dissent and community empowerment.

While many states use torture, few wish to be described as doing so, either to their own citizens or international bodies. So a variety of strategies are used to circumvent their legal and humanitarian duties, including plausible deniability, secret police, "need to know", denial that certain treatments constitute torture, appeal to various laws (national or international), use of jurisdictional argument, claim of "overriding need", the use of torture by proxy and so on. Almost all regimes and governments engaging in torture (and other crimes against humanity) consistently deny engaging in the practice, in spite of overwhelming hearsay and physical evidence from the citizens they tortured. The regimes headed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Kim Il-Sung and Saddam Hussein have all vehemently denied torture allegations charged against them. Both through denial and avoidance of prosecution, most people order or carry out acts of torture do not face legal consequences for their actions. UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, Sir Nigel Rodley, believes that, "impunity continues to be the principal cause of the perpetuation and encouragement of human rights violations and, in particular, torture.

While states, particularly their prisons, law enforcement and intelligence apparatus, are major sources of torture, many non-state actors engage in torture. These include paramiltaries, and guerrilla armies, criminal actors such as organized crime syndicates and kidnappers, and those enacting individual forms of power in extreme forms of domestic violence and child abuse.

A recent approach to interrogations has been to use techniques such as waterboarding, sexual humiliation and sexual abuse, and dogs to intimidate or pressure prisoners in a manner claimed to be legal under national or international law. Electric shock techniques such as the use of stun belts and tasers have been considered appropriate provided that they are used to "control" prisoners or suspects, even non-violent ones, rather than to extract information. This has been used on several prisoners in the courtroom itself, while conducting their own defense. These techniques have been widely criticized as torture.


While methods of torture are often quite crude, a number of new technologies of control have been used by torturers in recent years. The Brazilian government devised a number of new electrical and mechanical means of torture during the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, and proceeded to train military officials from other Latin American countries in their techniques. One is the use of Tasers and electro-shock devices now widely sold to prison authorities around the world.

Inter-state collaboration

Substantial cooperation between states in the methods and coordination of torture has been documented. Through the Phoenix Program, the United States helped South Vietnam coordinate a system of detention, torture and assassination of suspected members of the National Liberation Movement or Viet Cong. During the 1980s wars in Central America, the U.S. government provided manuals and trainings on interrogation that extended to the use of torture(see U.S. Army and CIA interrogation manuals). The manuals were also distributed by Special Forces Mobile Training teams to military personnel and intelligence schools in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru. The manuals have an entire chapter devoted to "coercive techniques."

The southern cone governments of South America--Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil--involved in Operation Condor coordinated the disappearance, torture and execution of dissidents in the 1970s. Hundreds were killed in coordinated operations, and the bodies of those recovered were often mutilated and showed signs of torture. This system operated with the knowledge and support of the United States government through the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department.

The United States government has, at least since the Bush Administration, used the tactic of legal rendition in which suspected terrorists were extradicted to countries where they were to be prosecuted for crimes committed. In the war on terror this has evolved into extraordinary rendition, the delivery of prisoners or others recently captured, including terrorism suspects, to foreign governments known to practice torture including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Afghanistan. Human rights activists have alleged the practice amounts to kidnapping for the purpose of torture, torture by proxy. A related practice is the operation of facilities for imprisonment, and it is widely believed torture, in foreign countries. In November 2005, the Washington Post reported--citing administration sources--that such facilities are operated by the CIA in Thailand (until 2004), Afghanistan, and several unnamed Eastern European countries. Human Rights Watch reports that planes associated with rendition have landed repeatedly in Poland and Romania.

Recent instances of torture in selected countries

The use of torture is geographically widespread. A review by Amnesty International, which did not use the United Nations Convention Against Torture as its definition of torture, of its case files found "reports of torture or ill-treatment by state officials in more than 150 countries from 1997 to 2000." These reports described widespread or persistent patterns of abuse in more than 70 countries and torture-related deaths in more than 80.


Torture has been an issue in Afghanistan under each of its recent governments. Under Najibullah's Soviet-backed regime, beating and electrical shocks were widely reported. After the mujahidin's victory, Afghanistan fell into a state of chaos, and, according to Amnesty International, "Torture of civilians in their homes has become endemic... In almost every jail run by the armed political groups, torture is reported to be a part of the daily routine." The Taliban are likewise reported to have engaged in torture. Since the US's overthrow of the Taliban, torture has been reported on several occasions, both by Afghan groups and by US troops. In the Herat region, dominated by the warlord Ismail Khan, Human Rights Watch reported extensive torture in 2002. Torture by US troops has been alleged in news reports by New York Times. In March 2008 the U.K ministry of defense claimed that that they and the Afghan army had uncovered a Taliban torture chamber where 2 individuals were believed to have been beaten


Under Enver Hoxha's Communist dictatorship, torture was widely used. Since its fall, Amnesty International has reported police abuses amounting to torture; the government says it has "made efforts to punish all acts of torture under the Albanian criminal justice system".


According to Pierre Vidal-Naquet-"Torture; Cancer of Democracy" and "Les Damnees de la Terre" by Franz Fanon- Torture was practised endemically by the French forces, commanded by General Jacques Massu, bringing together the experience of "Les Paras" in the Indo-China War and German troops in the Foreign Legion. Between 1-1.5 million were killed, often using torture techniques based on electricity and drowning techniques. Upon the withdrawal of French forces, and the dispersal of the OAS after the failed putsch many of the personnel involved were able to pass on their expertise to regimes in South America and South Africa and even the British at Fort Morbut in Aden. The legacy in Algeria itself has been seen in the recent "dirty war", in which extreme atrocities have been committed by both sides.


In Angola's 27-year civil war, according to Amnesty International, "many were tortured" by both sides. Since that time, AI has also reported that "unarmed civilians are being extrajudicially executed and tortured" in Angola's war against Cabindan separatists.


During the so-called "Dirty War" carried out in the 1970s, in particular, but not only, by the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983, tens of thousands of Argentines were "disappeared" by the junta, many never to be seen again. The National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons concluded:

In nearly all the cases brought to the attention of the Commission, the victims speak of acts of torture. Torture was an important element in the methodology of repression. Secret torture centres were set up, among other reasons, to enable the carrying out of torture to be carried out undisturbed.
Much of the torture and subsequent murders took place in the Naval Engineering School in Buenos Aires, carried out under two officers Hector Astiz and Francis Whammond, and many of the bodies were dropped from helicopters over the sea or deep jungle.


Torture is mainly used on the so called "war against drug dealers" in the city Rio de Janeiro, located on the state of Rio de Janeiro. In this case, the PM (Militar Police), BOPE (Elite Squad), and the drug dealers themselves use it in order to obtain information about simply everything. In some cases, one dealer may capture an associate of another dealer and torture him to obtain various information about the other dealer's operations. The police also use torture against drug users and dealers' subordinates to obtain information about the dealers themselves. When a drug lord is captured, he or she may be tortured as punishment.


The regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile in the 1970s used torture extensively against political opponents. Chile's National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture (Comisión Nacional sobre Prisión Política y Tortura) concluded in 2004 that torture had been a systematically implemented policy of the government and recommended reparations. The commission heard the testimony of more than 35,000 witnesses, whose testimonies are to be kept secret for fifty years. Among those tortured were future president Michelle Bachelet, who was held along with her mother at the notorious Villa Grimaldi detention center in Santiago.


Although torture was outlawed in China in 1996 a UN investigator found it to still be widespread in 2005, particularly because the narrow definition of the law, leaving a mark, does not comply with the UN definition.


During the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962), the French military used torture against the National Liberation Front and the civilian population. The French interrogators were notorious for the use of man-powered electrical generators on suspects: this form of torture was called (la) gégène. Paul Aussaresses, a French general in charge of intelligence services 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."

That France has provided a pivotal role in the evolution of western torture practices is the central thesis of the French film "Death Squadrons: The French School" by Monique Robin. The French had themselves developed practices in defence of its declining empire through the 20th century, setting up torture "universities" at Paolo Condor - an island off Vietnam (then French Indo-China, subsequently taken over by the U.S.A. and at Phillippeville in Algeria. Involved in post war French colonialism were the Foreign Legion and its paratroopers "Les Paras". These would have employed many German war veterans with experience of the commission of atrocities throughout the Second World War. Upon the dissolution of French Algeria and the abortive uprising of the OAS many of these personnel were disperse, only to turn up as "consultants" in various torture centres throughout the post colonial world- Fort Morbut in British Aden, Apartheid South Africa, the Naval Mechanical School in Buenos Aires,Argentina and in Pinochet's Chile as well as establishing methods of torture subsequently practised in North African successor regimes in Tunisia and Algeria. Popular methods include "le poulet roti" where the victim is tied to a rod between his knees and suspended and the "submarine", whereby the victim has water forced into his stomach from a jerry-can and "waterboarding" where a saturated towel is wrapped around the face to simulate the sensation of drowning.

On the other hand, police abuse remains a reality in France today, while France has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for the conditions of detention in prisons, including the use of torture on detainees. Although the law and the Constitution prohibits any kind of torture whatsoever, such practices happen. In 2004, the Inspector General of the National Police received 469 registered complaints about illegitimate police violence during the first 11 months of the year, down from 500 during the same period in 2003. There were 59 confirmed cases of police violence, compared to 65 in the previous year. In April 2004, the ECHR condemned the Government for "inhumane and degrading treatments" in the 1997 case of a teenager beaten while in police custody. The court ordered the Government to pay Giovanni Rivas $20,500 (15,000 euros) in damages and $13,500 (10,000 euros) in court costs. The head of the police station in Saint-Denis, near Paris, has been forced to resign after allegations of rape and other violences committed by the police force under his orders. Nine investigations concerning police abuse in this police station were done in 2005 by the IGS inspection of police. These repeated abuses are one of the causes of the 2005 civil unrest. Conditions in detention centers for illegal aliens have also been widely criticized by human rights NGO. In 2006, a young 20 years-old Serbian girl accused a policeman of attempting to have raped her in such a centre in Bobigny, in the suburbs of Paris, the year before


In 2002, in Cologne, Germany, a history of physical torture at Eigelstein police station only came to light because the victim died, and a post-mortem examination unearthed the facts. Further investigation revealed that the police officers obviously had resorted to physical mistreatment of suspects for quite some time, and none of them reported the mistreatment.


The government headed by Baathist Saddam Hussein made extensive use of torture, including at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. The post-invasion Iraqi government holds thousands of people in prison. After investigating from July to October 2004, Human Rights Watch found that torture was "routine and commonplace." According to their report,

Survivors of Saddam's regime report eyes being gouged, children tortured in front of parents, finger and toenail extraction with pliers, crucifixion, suspension, electrical torture, burial alive, gang-rape, sodomy and limbs being hacked off with axes. Many prisoners were later released to terrify others with their stories, before dying of thalium poisoning which had been fed to them in their food. Many bodies of torture victims were returned to their families in more than one black plastic sack. Samir Al-Khalil's book "Republic of Fear" alleges that Baathist leaders such as Saddam and his sons personally took part in these practices. Uday Hussein personally kept a kennel of Doberman dogs to use on his victims, such as underperforming members of the national sports teams. He also is believed to have used an iron maiden later found by US troops. Severe beatings often proved fatal or caused brain and organ damage and prisoners were frequently confined in small spaces without light for years and deprived of food and water.

Despite apparently credible claims that people were fed into Saddam Hussein's plastic shredder (most likely within Abu Ghraib) prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, no such device was found after the war. In October 1990, it was alleged that Iraqi soldiers had "thrown babies from incubators" during the invasion of Kuwait. This story was supposed to have come from the 'eye-witness testimony' of a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, Nurse Nayirah. Years later it emerged that she was the daughter of Saud bin Nasir Al-Sabah, Kuwait's ambassador to the United States and that the story was the creation of the Hill & Knowlton public relations firm employed by the Kuwaitis.


Israel has used, what they call, "moderate physical pressure" on terrorist suspects defined as "ticking bombs" for their possible knowledge of imminent terrorist attacks against civilians which the information they possessed may have had the power to prevent, at least since the 1970s. In 1987 the Israeli Supreme Court formed a special commission headed by retired Justice Moshe Landau, to review the whole question of physical pressure during investigations of this kind. In their report they reinforced the criteria for the use of "moderate physical pressure".

After investigation of continued allegations of torture, there was a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that all torture - even moderate physical pressure - was illegal. This decision was praised by human-rights organizations. Despite this reform of the law, certain actions tantamount to torture were still not completely prohibited in Israel. Amnesty International continues to express concerns to Israel about treatment which amounts to torture, and remains unhappy about the steps taken by Israel to eliminate torture. Amnesty International stated in 2002:

The human rights group B'Tselem estimated that 85% of all Palestinian detainees suspected of terrorism are subject to prolonged sleep deprivation; prolonged sight deprivation; forced, prolonged maintenance of body positions that grow increasingly painful; confinement in tiny, closet-like spaces; exposure to temperature extremes, such as in deliberately overcooled rooms; prolonged toilet and hygiene deprivation; and degrading treatment, such as forcing detainees to eat and use the toilet at the same time. Allegations have been made of frequent beatings. Such acts violate Article 16 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. In January 2000, B'Tselem claimed that the Israeli General Security Service's (GSS) methods of interrogation amounted to the five techniques: "[The] GSS used methods comparable to those used by the British in 1971, i.e., sleep deprivation, infliction of physical suffering, and sensory isolation. But the GSS used them for much longer periods, so the resulting pain and suffering were substantially greater. In addition, the GSS used direct violence... Thus,... in practice, the GSS methods were substantially more severe than those used by the British in 1971..."

Suspected Hezbollah guerrillas, their families and Lebanese civilian internees were previously detained in the South Lebanon Army (SLA) prison at Khiam in the then Israeli-occupied Southern Lebanon. Torture, including electric shock torture, by the SLA was routine. This was detailed after the end of the occupation in 2000, when Lebanese who freed the prisoners found instruments of torture. Such methods of torture have not been documented in Israel-proper or in the occupied Palestinian territories.

An unofficial facility called Unit 1391 is often claimed to be the place where suspected terrorists with "ticking bomb" knowledge are tortured, physically and psychologically.

The widespread practice of tying hands behind the back and suspending the victim from a rope - often until the shoulders are dislocated- is known as "Palestinian Hanging" due to its alleged use by Israelis to hang Palestinians.


In 2005, Human Rights Watch documented that Nigerian police in the cities of Enugu, Lagos and Kano routinely practice torture. Dozens of witnesses and survivors stepped forward to testify to repeated, severe beatings, abuse of sexual organs, rape, death threats, injury by shooting and the denial of food and water. These abuses were used in campaigns against common crime.

Systematic torture was used in conjunction with military occupation in an attempt to quell anti-oil protests by the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta, according to a World Council of Churches report.

North Vietnam

From 1961 to 1973, the North Vietnamese and Vietcong held hundreds of Americans captive. In North Vietnam alone, more than a dozen prisons were scattered in and around the capital city of Hanoi. American POWs gave them nicknames: "Alcatraz", "Briarpatch", "Dirty Bird", "the Hanoi Hilton", and "the Zoo". Conditions were appalling; food was watery soup and bread. Prisoners were variously isolated, starved, beaten, tortured for countless hours and paraded in anti-American propaganda. "It's easy to die but hard to live," a prison guard told one new arrival, "and we'll show you just how hard it is to live."

According to a 1975 secret CIA counterintelligence study, the "'Cuban Program'...was a Hanoi University Psychological Study. Hanoi's Ministry of Public Security's Medical Office (MPSMO) was responsible for "preparing studies and performing research on the most effective Soviet, French, Communist Chinese and other ...techniques..." of extracting information from POWs. The MPSMO "...supervised the use of torture and the use of drugs to induce [American] prisoners to cooperate." Its functions also "...included working with Soviet and Communist Chinese intelligence advisors who were qualified in the use of medical techniques for intelligence purposes."

See Con Son Island for accounts of US torture practices.


The Constitution of Russia forbids arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment. Part 2 of Article 21 of the constitution states that "no one may be subjected to torture, violence or any other harsh or humiliating treatment or punishment…". However Russian police are regularly observed practicing torture - including beatings, electric shocks, rape, asphyxiation - in interrogating arrested suspects..

Torture and humiliation dedovshchina are also widespread in Russian army, according to Human Rights Watch . Many young men are killed or commit suicide every year because of it. Amnesty International reported on allegations of Chechen locals, that Russian military forces in Chechnya rape and torture local women with electric shocks, when electric wires are connected to the straps of their bra on their chest.

In most extreme cases, hundreds of innocent people from the street were arbitrary arrested, beaten, tortured, and raped by special police forces. Such incidents took place not only in Chechnya, but also in Russian towns of Blagoveshensk, Bezetsk, and Nefteyugansk

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia officially considers torture illegal under Islamic Law; however, it is widely practiced, as in the case of William Sampson. According to a 2003 report by Amnesty International "Torture and ill-treatment remained rife. Hanny Megally, Executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch stated in 2002 "The practice of torture in Saudi Arabia is well-documented", According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2003 "Torture under interrogation of political prisoners and criminal suspects continued", and the 2006 report notes that "Arbitrary detention, mistreatment and torture of detainees, restrictions on freedom of movement, and lack of official accountability remain serious concerns.


Singapore prescribes punishments such as rattan caning for certain crimes, especially lesser offences, and offences such as drug possession, violence, or vandalism.

Proponents point to its effectiveness in terms of quick punishment and high deterrent value (Singapore is a relatively low crime country), as opposed to prolonged incarceration (which in other countries has led to extreme prison population problems, concern over extreme sentencing, disproportionate harm to peoples lives and innocent family members, and reduction in prospects for future combined with encouragement to a criminal future). But others consider it to be a form of torture because of the permanent scarring and severe pain it causes for its victims.

Caning in this context is highly supervised - it is administered only by trained officials, and administered to the buttocks, with full protective padding of the victim elsewhere to protect other vulnerable parts of the body such as the back from mis-strikes. A typical punishment might be between 3 and 12 strokes, delivered in one session. A medical officer is present to ensure that the recipient is able to withstand the effects, which can be severe.

A high profile case in the West was the sentencing of the American visitor Michael P. Fay following a guilty verdict for multiple counts of vandalism. Opinions of this sentence were divided in the United States. The U.S. State Department called the punishment too severe. But a call-in survey of 23,000 people by National Polling Network Tuesday found 53% favor whipping and other harsh sentences as an acceptable deterrent to crime in the USA. "Some said if we treated vandals in this country as they do in Singapore, maybe we wouldn't have so many problems."

Soviet Union

Torture was widely practiced in the Soviet Union prior to its transformation to a federation in the 1980s, to extract confessions from suspects, especially in case of alleged plots against the security of the state or alleged collaboration with "imperialist powers". The main innovation over those techniques inherited from tsarism was the "Yezhov Conveyor", entailing the changeover by shifts of interrogators, often repeating the same question endlessly-a process which was nearly as stressful for the interrogator as the victim.


Although officially illegal, torture in Spain continues to be used by police forces at various levels as a means to extract confessions or as punishment. Reported occurrences of torture usually involve people detained under anti-terrorist legislation, victims of the GAL, and immigrants, both asylum seekers and resident immigrants accused of common crimes or immigration offences. However, the Spanish government categorically denies the existence of torture.

Spanish authorities consistently fail to implement recommendations by the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the UN Committee Against Torture to combat the use of torture in detention. The UN committee expressed its concern "about the length of judicial procedures and made reference to reports that indicated that five years had sometimes passed between crime and sentence. The Committee warned that this problem reduces the effect of penal action and discourages people to file complaints." It further indicated that "All members of the Committee were also deeply concerned about the legal practice of five days incommunicado detention." (since October 2003, a reform of the Criminal Procedure Code has extended that period to a maximum of 13 days).

United Kingdom

1939-1945, WWII

During WWII the British government operated a secret torture center to extract information and confessions from German prisoners

More than 3,000 prisoners passed through the torture center, where many were systematically beaten, deprived of sleep, forced to stand still for more than 24 hours at a time and threatened with execution or unnecessary surgery.

1969-1972, Northern Ireland

In 1978 in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) trial "Ireland v. the United Kingdom" (Case No. 5310/71) the facts were not in dispute and the judges court published the following in their judgement:

These were referred to by the court as the five techniques. The court ruled:

The ECHR case was a ruling on British policy before the "Parker report" which was published on March 2 1972 and had found the five techniques to be illegal under domestic law:

On the same day (March 2 1972), the United Kingdom Prime Minister Edward Heath stated in the House of Commons that the techniques would not be used in future as an aid to interrogation. As foreshadowed in the Prime Minister's statement, directives expressly prohibiting the use of the techniques, whether singly or in combination, were then issued to the security forces by the Government. These are still in force and the use of such methods by UK security forces would not be condoned by the Government.

21st century

On February 23, 2005, British soldiers were found guilty of abuse of Iraqi prisoners arrested for looting at a British Army camp called Bread Basket, in Basra, during May 2003. The judge at the military court, Judge Advocate Michael Hunter, said of photographs and the soldier's behaviour:

At the court martial, the prosecution alleged that in giving the order to "work [the prisoners] hard" Captain Dan Taylor had broken the Geneva Conventions. Neither Taylor, or his commanding officer Lt-Col Paterson, (who was briefed on the operation "Ali Baba", by Taylor), were sanctioned, and indeed, during the period of time between the offence and the trial, both were given promotions. All the leaders of the major British political parties condemned the abuse. Tony Blair British Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party declared that the pictures were "shocking and appalling". After sentencing, the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, made a statement on television and said that: he was "appalled and disappointed" when he first saw photographs of the Iraqi detainees and that

On 7 December 2005, the House of Lords reversed the deportations of Muslims convicted on "evidence procured by torture inflicted by foreign officials," and cited the 1978 case in ruling centuries of common law and recent international conventions made torture anathema in the country's courts. Lord Bingham said "clear that from its very earliest days the common law of England set its face firmly against the use of torture", Lord Nicholls said "Torture is not acceptable. This is a bedrock moral principle in this country.", Lord Hoffman "The use of torture is dishonourable. It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it.", Lord Hope "one of most evil practices known to man", Lord Rodgers "the unacceptable nature of torture ... has long been unquestioned in this country.", Lord Carswell "abhorrence felt by civilised nations for the use of torture" and Lord Brown said "Torture is an unqualified evil. It can never be justified. Rather it must always be punished.".

On 13 March 2007 the six month court martial of the seven solders — including Colonel Jorge Mendonca and Major Michael Peebles — over the detention of Iraqi prisoners in Basra during May 2003, ended with all but one, (Corporal Donald Payne), acquitted. On 30 April 2007 Payne, Britain's first convicted war criminal found guilty under the provisions of the International Criminal Court Act 2001, who had pleaded guilty to mistreating prisoners, was jailed for a year and dishonourably discharged from the army.

In March 2008 the Ministry of Defence admit breaching the human rights of Baha Mousa, who died in British custody in Basra and of eight other Iraqi men held at the same facility. Opening the way for a multimillion pound compensation package for the relatives of Baha Mousa and the other men injured during illegal interrogations.On 14 May 2008 Defence Secretary Des Browne announced in the House of Commons that there would be a public inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa] in which "no stone [will be left] unturned in investigating his tragic death.

On 26 July 2008, The Joint Committee on Human Rights accused Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram in 2004 and Lieutenant General Adam Ingram, Commander Field Army, in 2006 of misleading the committee when they declared that conditioning practices (based on the five techniques, banned since their used in Northern Ireland in the 1970s) were not being used. It has now emerged that such techniques were being used by some troops deployed abroad. The BBC reported that "Labour MP Andrew Dismore, chairman of the committee, said he hoped the public inquiry [into the death of Baha Mousa] would give some indications as to why they were given 'wrong evidence'. Earlier this month, the MoD agreed to pay almost £3m in compensation to Mr Mousa's family and nine Iraqi men after admitting breaching human rights".

United States

While the United States is a party to international conventions against torture, a proponent of human rights treaties and a critic of torture by other countries, torture has allegedly been practiced within its borders and on its government's behalf outside of its borders. Its human rights record has been subject to close scrutiny. Torture has principally been reported or alleged in three main areas:

Criminal justice system - Abusive and torturous practices are regularly reported within prisons, and not uncommon in police custody. Police brutality in the United States has at times escalated to torture, as in the cases of Abner Louima who was sodomized with a plunger by New York police. The Chicago Police Department's Area 2 unit under Commander Jon Burge repeatedly used electroshock, near-suffocation by plastic bags and excessive beating on suspects in the 1970s and 1980s. The City of Chicago's Office of Professional Standards (OPS) concluded that the physical abuse was systematic and, "The type of abuse described was not limited to the usual beating, but went into such esoteric areas as psychological techniques and planned torture." The Supermax facility at the Maine State Prison has been the scene of video-taped forcible extractions that Lance Tapley in the Portland Phoenix wrote "look[ed] like torture."

Military detention, internment and interrogation - Torture has been practiced within prisons, immigration detention facilities and military compounds. American government officials have participated in torture abroad, maintained interrogation facilities where torture is practiced and trained foreign officials in interrogation methods that include practices considered torturous by international standards.

In 2003 and 2004 there was substantial controversy over the "stress and duress" methods that were used in the U.S.'s War on Terrorism, that had been sanctioned by the U.S. Executive branch of government at Cabinet level. Similar methods in 1978 were ruled by ECHR to be inhuman and degrading treatment when used by the U.K. in the early 1970s in Northern Ireland.

Extensive use of torture techniques was reported after the Second Iraq War (2003-), allegedly supported by American military intelligence agents, in Iraqi jails such as Abu Ghraib. US government legal memoranda from as early as 2002 approve the practice of techniques deemed by many observers as torture. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 authorizes the President to hold military tribunals of alleged enemy combatants, to approve testimony obtained through humiliating or degrading treatment, and to suspend habeas corpus by holding such prisoners indefinitely without judicial review. Amnesty International and numerous commentators have criticized the Act for approving a system that uses torture, destroying the mechanisms for judicial review created by the Supreme Court ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, and creating a parallel legal system below international standards.

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 (e.g. water boarding), which are claimed by human rights organisations 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.

Extraordinary rendition - Media reports, human rights group statements and governmental investigations (including an investigation by the European Union) conclude that the U.S. government has handed suspects over to foreign intelligence services for more intensive interrogation, often including torture by proxy. There has been a lack of denial in official circles of this practice. A US official is reported to have 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 at Guantanamo Bay. It is alleged that terror suspects are arbitrarily or illegally arrested, then secretly transferred to other countries without trial and without respect of legal rights, there to be interrogated and often tortured. Maher Arar (2002) is an example of this practice.

... there is also the grotesque and deeply shameful issue that will always be a part of Mr. Rumsfeld's legacy -- the manner in which American troops have treated prisoners under their control in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. There is no longer any doubt that large numbers of troops responsible for guarding and interrogating detainees somehow loosed their moorings to humanity, and began behaving as sadists, perverts and criminals.''
Bob Herbert
The Guardian Newspaper reported (2 June 2008) that upwards of 26,000 prisoners are being secretly held in bases throughout the world and in US warships outside due legal process. See also: Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse Bagram torture and prisoner abuse Criticisms of the War on Terrorism, Extraordinary Rendition, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA


After an investigating visit to Uzbekistan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Theo van Boven concluded in a formal report:

Forms of torture frequently cited include immersion in boiling water, exposure to extreme heat and cold, "the use of electric shock, temporary suffocation, hanging by the ankles or wrists, removal of fingernails, punctures with sharp objects, rape, the threat of rape, and the threat of murder of family members. (For example, see Muzafar Avazov.)

In 2003, Britain's Ambassador for Uzbekistan, Mr. Craig Murray made accusations that information was being extracted under extreme torture from dissidents in that country, and that the information was subsequently being used by Britain and other western, democratic countries which disapproved of torture.

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