The United Nations' StanceEdit

A line must be drawn between tough interrogation of prisoners and torture, this much we know for sure. The issue facing us today is where to draw it? There is standing today a Convention against torture drawn up by the United Nations in 1984 and put into force by 1987, in which torture is defined as:

“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purpose 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”.

As of December 2008, 146 nations are parties to the Treaty, and another ten countries have signed but not ratified it. However, as you all will know, having a convention and even agreeing to follow it does not mean the problem will stop! This problem has become worse than ever since the heightened security and raised national risk level in nearly all United Nations Member States after the dreadful events of September 11th.

There are many examples of occasions when torture has been used recently for the wrong reasons, like in the case of the Guantanamo Bay where detainees were often tortured upon arrival to determine what each prisoner's weakness was and what would push them beyond breaking point.

Prevalance of TortureEdit


United States soldiers practicing waterboarding.

The most common scenario involving torture that you will find during your research will be the “ticking bomb” example. This describes a fictional scenario in which a massive weapon is set to go off, a prisoner in custody is known to have information on the attack that he refuses to give, and forces are faced with the question of whether to torture the prisoner or allow untold millions to die.

Certainly if millions of lives were at stake, the prisoner in question could be and would be tortured. It would not matter whether or not the practice of torture is illegal, because those doing the torturing would almost certainly either be pardoned or acquitted by jury nullification. When our criminal justice system makes allowances even for justifiable homicide, it is naïve to believe that laws against torture would have any significance in a true “ticking bomb” scenario. Many people say that the method of torture used in this scenario would be physical pain or sexual humiliation as these are both seen as the most severe and quickest to get results. The issue with them is that the captive will very often tell the interrogated what they think they want to hear to stop the pain, this leads to unhelpful false intelligence.

Many Member States who practice some forms of torture believe that the pain and humiliation methods remove too many of a person's human rights for them to be allowed and so use different methods.

There are a huge number of different torture methods at the end of this briefing paper I have listed some of the ones I have found.

At present the UN’s attitude towards torture is negative and there is a convention, (the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment), that was drawn up to try and stop torture in any form. (It can be found here.)

However, not every member state has signed and agreed to adhere to this convention.

Most notably the Latin American countries as well as Iraq, Israel, and some of the other Middle Eastern countries still openly practice torture. North America is also not entirely without blame, sadly though much of the torture that once happened in certain states in America has now moved underground. This is because once the US helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 stating that torture in all forms is banned, they could no longer practice it openly. This has resulted in unrestrained torture although this is speculation and of course cannot be proved.

Some people say that certain practices in prisons constitute torture. The most famous example of this would be the use of the restraint chair, which is used for force feeding and administering sedating drugs, often narcotic based causing severe physiological distortions.

In order for an interesting debate it is essential that you find your country’s own position politically on torture as well as the position you publicly declare.

Methods of TortureEdit

  • Shaming and public humiliation, being stripped or displayed naked, public condemnation
  • Shunning
  • Exploitation of phobias; eg. mock execution, leaving arachnophobes in a room full of spiders
  • Being subjected to interrogation for long periods
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Solitary confinement
  • Sensory deprivation
  • Threat of permanent, severe disfigurement
  • Pharmacological torture
  • Boiling
  • Bone breaking
  • Branding
  • Castration
  • Chinese water torture
  • Choking/strangling
  • Crushing
  • Cutting
  • Denailing
  • Disfigurement
  • Drowning
  • Dunking
  • Electric shock torture
  • Tooth extraction
  • Flagellation
  • Flaying
  • Foot roasting
  • Foot whipping
  • Force feeding
  • Fish gnawing
  • Garrotting
  • Genital mutilation/forced circumcision
  • Glasgow smile
  • Hamstringing
  • Kneecapping
  • Keelhauling
  • Mutilation
  • Oxygen deprivation
  • Picquet
  • Pitchcapping
  • Pressue points
  • Rat torture
  • Riding the Rail
  • Sexual assault
  • Scalping
  • Scaphism
  • Sound (extremely high volumes, dynamic range, low frequency, high pitched noise, intended to interfere with rest, cognition and concentration).
  • Starvation
  • Strappado/squassation (also known as “reverse hanging” and “Palestinian hanging”)
  • Stress positions
  • Ta’liq hanging from metal bar
  • Tarring and feathering
  • Tickle torture
  • Water cure
  • Waterboarding
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