Use of torture since 1948

Torture, the infliction of severe physical or psychological pain upon an individual to extract information or a confession, or as an illicit extrajudicial punishment, is prohibited by international law and is illegal in most countries. However, it is still used by many governments. The subject of this article is 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.[1] 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."[2] 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 to 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 activities constitute torture, appeal to various laws (national or international), use of a jurisdictional argument, claim of "overriding need", the use of torture by proxy, and so on.[3] Almost all regimes and governments engaging in torture (and other crimes against humanity) consistently deny engaging in it, in spite of overwhelming hearsay and physical evidence from the citizens they tortured. Through both denial and avoidance of prosecution, most people ordering or carrying out acts of torture do not face legal consequences for their actions.[3] UN Special Rapporteur for 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."[4]

While states, particularly their prisons, law enforcement, military and intelligence apparatus, are major perpetrators of torture, many non-state actors also engage in it. These include paramilitaries and guerrillas, criminal actors such as organized crime syndicates and kidnappers.

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. 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 right-wing Latin American countries in their techniques.[5] One is the use of tasers and electro-shock devices now widely sold to prison authorities around the world. Minor refinements of ancient techniques, including tearing out fingernails and toenails with iron appliances and burning the soles of the feet with clothes irons, are also widely applied.

Inter-state collaboration

A Viet Cong prisoner captured in 1967 by the U.S. Army awaits interrogation. He has been placed in a stress position by tying a board between his arms.

Substantial cooperation between states in the methods and coordination of torture has been documented. Through the Phoenix Program, the United States helped South Vietnam co-ordinate a system of detention, torture and assassination of suspected members of the National Liberation Front, or Viet Cong. During the 1980s wars in Central America, the U.S. government provided manuals and training 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 a chapter devoted to "coercive techniques".

The southern cone governments of South America – Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil – involved in Operation Condor co-ordinated 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.[6]

The United States government has, at least since the Bush administration, used the tactic of legal rendition in which suspected terrorists were extradited to countries where they were to be prosecuted for crimes allegedly 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 are Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Afghanistan. Human rights activists have alleged that the practice amounts to kidnapping for the purpose of torture, or 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.[7] Human Rights Watch reports that planes associated with rendition have landed repeatedly in Poland and Romania.[8]

Recent instances of torture in selected countries

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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.[9]


Torture has been reported in Afghanistan under each of its recent governments. Under Najibullah's Soviet-backed regime, beating and electric shocks were widely reported.[10] After the mujahidin 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".[11] The Taliban are likewise reported to have engaged in torture.[12] Since the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban, torture has been reported on several occasions, both by Afghan groups and by U.S. troops. In the Herat region, dominated by the warlord Ismail Khan, Human Rights Watch reported extensive torture in 2002.[13] Torture by US troops has been alleged in news reports by the New York Times.[14] In March 2008 the UK Ministry of Defence claimed that they and the Afghan army had uncovered a Taliban torture chamber where two individuals were believed to have been beaten.[15]


Under Enver Hoxha's People's Socialist Republic of Albania, torture was widely used.[16] 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 in "Torture; Cancer of Democracy" and "Les Damnees de la Terre" by Franz Fanon, torture was practiced 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 French Foreign Legion. Between 1 million and 1.5 million were killed, often using torture techniques based on electricity and drowning techniques.


In Angola's 27-year civil war, according to Amnesty International, "many were tortured" by both sides.[17][18] Since that time, AI has also reported that "unarmed civilians are being extrajudicially executed and tortured"[19] in Angola's war against Cabindan separatists.


Further information: Dirty War

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.[20]


Torture has been used frequently by the Bahraini government in the 20th century. Notable cases include that of Ian Henderson, a former colonial officer employed in Bahrain who was accused by multiple witnesses of torturing prisoners.[21] Adel Flaifel, a notorious security officer identified by many detainees as having overseen torture,[22] was given immunity under Royal Decree 56 of 2002. Between 1980 and 1998, nine people died in detention as a result of torture, with five more dying shortly after being released as a result of injuries sustained from torture. Reports released by Amnesty International[23] and Human Rights Watch[24] in the 1990s point to the widespread use of torture in Bahraini prisons.[25](p35)

During the Bahraini uprising, torture was described by many human rights reports as widespread and systematic. Up to 1866 who make up 64%[26] of detainees reported cases of torture.[25](p37) Three government agencies, namely the Ministry of Interior, the National Security Agency and the Bahrain Defence Force, were involved in interrogating detainees in relation to the events of the uprising. The NSA and MoI followed a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which in many cases amounted to torture.[27](p298) Only four of the individuals who alleged torture were arrested by the BDF.[27](p283) The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry have attributed the deaths of five individuals to torture.[27](p287–288)


Torture was used regularly by the Brazilian dictatorship regime from 1964 to 1977 against dissidents. It included torturing their children, some of whom were less than 2 years old at the time.[28]


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.[29][30] Among those tortured were future president Michelle Bachelet, who was held along with her mother at the notorious Villa Grimaldi detention center in the capital 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.[31]


Main article: Torture in Cuba
Day and night, the screams of tormented women in panic and desperation who cry for God's mercy fall upon the deaf ears of prison authorities. They are confined to narrow cells with no sunlight called "drawers" that have cement beds, a hole on the ground for their bodily needs, and are infested with a multitude of rodents, roaches, and other insects. These female prisoners lack all sort of necessary personal possessions and almost always have no water, even for bathing, often drinking this precious liquid full of insects. The food distributed to them is terrible, smells rotten, and is stored in receptacles lacking in hygiene. Even prison officials have complained of the small quantities served. In these "drawers" the women remain weeks and months. When they scream in terror due to the darkness (blackouts are common) and the heat, they are injected sedatives that keep them half-drugged.[32]

People imprisoned by the communist regime are reportedly tortured.[32][33]

East Germany

In the socialist German Democratic Republic of divided Germany, torture and inhumane and degrading treatment were systematically used by security forces, including the Stasi secret police, against suspected opponents of the regime.[34]


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.

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 United States) and at Phillippeville in Algeria.

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, 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.[35] The head of the police station in Saint-Denis, near Paris, has been forced to resign after allegations of rape and other violence committed by the police force under his orders. Nine investigations concerning police abuse in this police station were carried out in 2005 by the IGS inspection of police.[36][37] These repeated abuses are said to be one of the causes of the 2005 civil unrest.[38] Conditions in detention centers for illegal aliens have also been widely criticized by human rights NGOs. In 2006 a young 20-year-old Serbian girl accused a policeman of attempting to rape her in such a centre in Bobigny, in the suburbs of Paris, the year before.[39]


During the Guatemalan civil war and the repression by the army against civilians and suspected opponents of the military dictatorship, murder (even genocide), torture, rape and inhumane and degrading treatment was systematically used by the Guatemalan armed forces and police. There is evidence that the CIA, in anticommunist campaigns during the 1980s, was involved in these tortures (in Latin America the threat of communism was often used as justification for dictatorship during the Cold War). Thousands of victims were tortured and murdered. For example, Dianna Ortiz, an American nun who was teaching poor Mayan children in the Guatemala highlands, claims that U.S. personnel were present in interrogation and torture rooms in Guatemala City in 1989 when she was kidnapped, taken to a secret prison and repeatedly raped and tortured by Guatemalan right-wing forces. Ortiz survived because of her American citizenship. Sister Ortiz chronicled her experiences and recovery in a book, The Blindfold's Eyes.[40] "There were other people in the clandestine cell, the clandestine prison, as well, and I could hear terrible screams. Many were killed. I saw some bodies. There were children, as well", wrote Dianna Ortiz.


India has not ratified the UN Convention against Torture. Custodial deaths and extrajudicial killings are on the rise. The Asian Centre for Human Rights released its report, Torture in India 2010, at a press conference in New Delhi. The report stated that, taking 2000 as the base year, custodial deaths have decreased by 41.66%[41] government between 2004–2005 to 2007–2008. This includes 70.72% increase of deaths in prison and 12.60% increase while in police custody. The government has stated that it intends to pass the Anti Torture Act 2010 so it can ratify the UN convention against torture. The bill provides up to a 10-year sentence for physical or mental torture by the police.[42]


Main article: Human rights in Iran

Article 38 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic forbids "all forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information" and the "compulsion of individuals to testify, confess, or take an oath." It also states that "any testimony, confession, or oath obtained under duress is devoid of value and credence."[43][44] The Islamic Republic itself vehemently denies the existence of torture by the government.

Nonetheless, human rights groups and observers, such as Amnesty International, the United Nations, and Human Rights Watch, have complained that torture is frequently used on political prisoners in Iran.[45][46][47][48][49]

A substantial number of Iranians have been tortured and imprisoned by the religious police. Arya Aramnejad, a singer, was jailed for his song "Ali Barkhiz" where he denounces the Islamic regime's crimes during the 2009 Ashura protests. During his time in prison, he was reportedly tortured (sexually humiliated – photographed naked, laughed at, obliged to walk barefooted on aids' patients blood).[50] Farzad Kamangar was repeatedly tortured in prison. Amnesty International reports that Kamangar was repeatedly beaten, flogged, and electrocuted, and that he now suffers from spasms in his arms and legs as a result of the torture.[51][52] After she died in the custody of Iranian officials, Zahra "Ziba" Kazemi-Ahmadabadi, an Iranian-Canadian freelance photographer, was found to show obvious signs of torture, including a skull fracture, broken nose, signs of rape and severe abdominal bruising.[53] Ehsan Fatahian, an Iranian Kurdish activist, was tortured for confession before being executed.[54] Zeynab Jalalian, also a Kurdish activist, is currently ill due to prison conditions and torture. She has been sentenced to death.[55] Other notable victims include Behrouz Javid Tehrani,[56] Habibollah Latifi,[57] Houshang Asadi,[58] Saeed Malekpour,[59] Shirkoh (Bahman) Moarefi,[55] Hossein Khezri,[60] and Akbar Mohammadi.[61][62]

In a study of torture in Iran published in 1999, Iranian-born political historian Ervand Abrahamian included Iran along with "Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, and early modern Europe" of the Inquisition and witch hunts, as societies that "can be considered to be in a league of their own" in the systematic use of torture.[63]

Torture techniques used in the Islamic Republic include:

whipping, sometimes of the back but most often of the feet with the body tied on an iron bed; the qapani; deprivation of sleep; suspension from ceiling and high walls; twisting of forearms until they broke; crushing of hands and fingers between metal presses; insertion of sharp instruments under the fingernails; cigarette burns; submersion under water; standing in one place for hours on end; mock executions; and physical threats against family members. Of these, the most prevalent was the whipping of soles, obviously because it was explicitly sanctioned by the sharia.[64]

Chronicle of Higher Education International, reports that the widespread practice of raping women imprisoned for engaging in political protest has been effective in keeping female college students "less outspoken and less likely to take part" in political demonstrations. The journal quotes an Iranian college student as saying, "most of the girls arrested are raped in jail. Families can't cope with that."[65]

Several bills passed the Iranian Parliament that would have had Iran joining the international convention on banning torture in 2003 when reformists controlled Parliament, but were rejected by the Guardian Council.[66][67]


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,

Methods of torture or ill-treatment cited included routine beatings to the body using a variety of implements such as cables, hosepipes and metal rods. Detainees reported kicking, slapping and punching; prolonged suspension from the wrists with the hands tied behind the back; electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, including the earlobes and genitals; and being kept blindfolded and/or handcuffed continuously for several days. In several cases, the detainees suffered what may be permanent physical disability.

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.[69]


After investigation of continued allegations of torture, the Supreme Court ruled in 1999[70][71] that all torture - even moderate physical pressure - was illegal. This decision was praised by human-rights organizations. Despite this reform of the law, 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 Israeli HCJ in September 1999 banned a number of interrogation methods ...However the judgment left ... loopholes by which methods amounting to torture or other ill-treatment in detention may continue.
Amnesty International, [72]

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 or sensory 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, viz. 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..."[73]


Mau Mau inflicted torture and death on 1,819 Kikuyu during their uprising in the 1950s, along with 58 people of European and Asian descent.


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.[74][75]


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.[76]

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.[77]

Christian pastors in Nigeria have been involved in the torturing and killing of children accused of witchcraft. Church pastors, in an effort to distinguish from the competition, establish their credentials by accusing children of witchcraft. When repeatedly asked to comment about the matter, the Church has refused to comment.[78]

North Vietnam

From 1961 to 1973, the North Vietnamese and Vietcong held hundreds of Americans captive. 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."[79]

See Con Son Island for accounts of US torture practices.

Palestinian Territories

The Palestinian Authority has reportedly practiced torture in the occupied territories over the years. Amnesty International found: "Torture [by the Palestine Authority] of detainees remained widespread. Seven detainees died in custody. Unlawful killings, including possible extrajudicial executions, continued to be reported."[80]

In 1995, Azzam Rahim, a naturalized American citizen, was arrested by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. He was subsequently taken to a prison in Jericho where he was tortured and killed.[81] Rahim's family attempted to sue the PA and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, but the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against them.[82]

More than 100 cases of torture by Palestinian security services were reported in 2010. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: "The reports of torture by Palestinian security services keep rolling in. President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad are well aware of the situation. They need to reverse this rampant impunity and make sure that those responsible are prosecuted."[83]

At least six Palestinians have died under torture in PA prisons. According to a report by the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Britain, the PA has used torture on a systematic basis for years. Methods include beatings with cables, pulling out nails, suspension from the ceiling, flogging, kicking, cursing, electric shocks, sexual harassment and the threat of rape. The report went on to say "Every one of those detainees has been subject to humiliating and degrading treatment and stayed in cells for more than 10 days. The analysis shows that an astonishing 95 percent of the detainees were subjected to severe torture, others feeling the detrimental effects on their health for varying periods."[84] The Shabeh, which involves detainees being handcuffed and bound in stress positions for longs stretches of time, is the most widely used form of torture.[85]

In 2012, after allegedly selling a house in Hebron to a Jewish family, Muhammad Abu Shahala was arrested by the Palestinian Authority, tortured into a confession, and sentenced to death.[86]

Human Rights Watch reported 147 cases of torture by Hamas in the West Bank during 2011 and that none of the perpetrators had been prosecuted "despite consistent allegations of severe abuse." It further stated that "Some men said they had needed medical care due to torture and sought to obtain medical records as evidence that they had been tortured, but that hospital officials refused to provide them. Hamas’s rival in the West Bank, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, arrests and detains Palestinians arbitrarily, including Hamas members or sympathizers, and similarly subjects detainees to torture and abuse."[87]

In another report, Human Rights Watch "documents cases in which [Palestinian] security forces tortured, beat, and arbitrarily detained journalists, confiscated their equipment, and barred them from leaving the West Bank and Gaza." HRW also reported an incident in which "the Hamas Ministry of Interior summoned a journalist who published an article on torture by Hamas authorities in secret detention facilities, threatened to take legal action against him if he did not publish an apology for the article, and warned him to correct his 'biased' reporting."[88]


Excavation of Red Terror victims outside the headquarters of the Kharkov Cheka in Kharkov

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…".[89] However Russian police are regularly observed practicing torture – including beatings, electric shocks, rape, asphyxiation – in interrogating arrested suspects.[90][90][91][92]

Torture and humiliation, or dedovshchina, are also widespread in Russian's military, according to Human Rights Watch.[93] This is essentially the Russian version of bullying or hazing that is practiced in the American military, however it is often much more brutal. Many young men are killed or commit suicide every year because of it.[94] 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.[89]

In the most extreme cases, hundreds of innocent people from the street were arbitrarily arrested, beaten, tortured, and raped by special police forces ("Red Terror"). Such incidents took place not only in Chechnya, but also in the Russian towns of Blagoveshensk, Bezetsk, and Nefteyugansk.[95][96][97]

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."[98] 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",[99] According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2003, "Torture under interrogation of political prisoners and criminal suspects continued",[100] 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".[101]

Soviet Union

Torture was widely practiced by the brutal Soviet secret police during the Stalinism era to extract (often false) confessions from suspects often called enemies of the people. One of the most prevalent and effective types of torture was sleep deprivation, nicknamed "conveyor" due to interrogators replacing one another to keep the inmate from sleeping.[102] The use of torture was authorized by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and personally by Joseph Stalin. During the Doctor's Plot, Stalin ordered falsely accused physicians to be tortured "to death".[103]


The Spanish government categorically denies the existence of torture.[104]

However, the 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).[105][106]


Torture has reportedly been used in the Adra Prison near Damascus.[107] In 2010, the prison held 7,000 prisoners.[108] The Tadmor Prison in Palmyra was known for harsh conditions, extensive human rights abuse, torture and summary executions. It was closed in 2001 and all remaining political detainees were transferred to other prisons in Syria. However, Tadmor Prison was reopened on 15 June 2011 and 350 individuals arrested for participation in anti-regime demonstrations were transferred there for interrogation and detainment.[109]

A number of captured Israelis have been tortured in Syria. This includes Eli Cohen, who was executed in 1965.[110] In 1955, five Israeli soldiers were captured in a covert operation on the Golan Heights and brutally tortured in a Syrian prison.[111] One of the soldiers, Uri Ilan, committed suicide when falsely informed by his captors that his comrades had been killed.[112] Ilan became a symbol of courage and patriotism in Israel.[113][114] During the Yom Kippur War, many Israeli prisoners said that they had been tortured by Syrians,[115] and one POW, Avraham Lanir, was tortured to death.[116][117]

During the Syrian Civil War, reports have been made of widespread and systematic torture used by Syrian security forces.[118] This includes electrocution, brutal beatings and sexual assault. Amnesty said of the situation : "Torture and other ill-treatment in Syria form part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, carried out in an organized manner and as part of state policy and therefore amount to crimes against humanity."[119]


United Arab Emirates

In April 2009 a video emerged of a United Arab Emirates Royal Sheik, Sheik Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (a son of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan) directing the torture of an Afghan grain dealer Mohammed Shah Poor The video includes the man being tortured with a cattle prod to his genitals, sand in his mouth and being run over by a Mercedes SUV. A man in a UAE police uniform is seen on the tape tying the victim's arms and legs, and later holding him down. The official response of the UAE government was that Sheik Issa is the man shown in the video but he did nothing wrong. The incidents depicted in the videotapes were not part of a pattern of behaviour, the Ministry of the Interior said.[120][121]

United Kingdom


During the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s, British colonial forces rounded up more than a million of Kikuyu people — most of them innocent victims of collective punishment — and imprisoned them in concentration camps in order to flush out the Mau Mau insurgency. In order to extract information about the insurgency and terrorize the enemy, the British used brutal methods to force Kenyans to confess and repudiate the Mau Mau oath. Under slogans like "labor and freedom" and other variations on "Arbeit macht frei," inmates were worked to death as slave labor filling in mass graves under cruel conditions. Some men were anally raped with knives. Some women had their breasts mutilated and cut off. Eyes were gouged out and ears cut off and skin lacerated with coiled barbed wire. Interrogation involved stuffing a detainee’s mouth with mud and stamping on his throat until he passed out or died. Survivors were sometimes burned alive, while British guards and interrogators took joy and laughed. British troops denying access to medical aid to the detainees were widespread. A former British officer described a British detention camp in Kenya in 1954: "Short rations, overwork, brutality, humiliating and disgusting treatment, flogging — all in violation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights." According to Canon Bewes, a British missionary, there was a "constant stream of reports of brutalities by police, military and home guards. Some of the people had been using castration instruments and two men had died under castration."[122][123][124]

Among the detainees who suffered severe mistreatment was Hussein Onyango Obama, the grandfather of U.S. President Barack Obama. According to his widow, British soldiers forced pins into his fingernails and buttocks and squeezed his testicles between metal rods and two others were castrated.[125] One British settler described the typical British interrogation:

We knew the slow method of torture [at the Mau Mau Investigation Center] was worse than anything we could do. Special Branch there had a way of slowly electrocuting a Kuke—they'd rough up one for days. Once I went personally to drop off one gang member who needed special treatment. I stayed for a few hours to help the boys out, softening him up. Things got a little out of hand. By the time I cut his balls off, he had no ears, and his eyeball, the right one, I think, was hanging out of its socket. Too bad, he died before we got much out of him.

On 22 November 1954, Colonel Arthur Young sent a letter to Governor Evelyn Baring about the "inhumanity" of various parts of the security forces amid his investigations of wrongdoing:

The other lamentable aspect of this case [i.e. Judgment of the East Africa Court of Appeal, Criminal Appeals 891 and 892 of 1954] is the horror of some of the so called Screening Camps which, in my judgment, now present a state of affairs so deplorable that they should be investigated without delay so that the ever increasing allegations of inhumanity and disregard of the rights of the African citizen are dealt with and so that Government will have no reason either to be embarrassed or ashamed of the acts which are done in its name by its own servants. As things are at present there is no one who can investigate such allegations and no independent authority who is responsible for the conduct at these camps. An African who is unfortunate enough to suffer from the brutalities which are clearly evident has no one to whom he can complain and no one to regard his interests since the local Administrative Officer is, himself, the authority for the camps. Moreover, the injured person is unlikely to appeal to the police for redress if they are to be regarded as subordinate to the Executive...I do not consider that in the present circumstances Government have taken all the necessary steps to ensure that in its Screening Camps the elementary principles of justice and humanity are observed.[126]

In January 1955, Baring sent a telegram to Alan Lennox-Boyd, the Secretary of State for the Colonies and a cabinet minister, and told them that eight white European officers who had been accused of serious crimes, including accessory to murder, would be given immunity from prosecution. One district officer was accused of the "beating up and roasting alive of one African". A Kenyan Regiment Sergeant and a field intelligence assistance had been implicated in the burning of two further suspects "during screening operations". "I had not myself realised until today that the extension of the principle of clemency to all members of the security forces involved so many cases with Europeans as principals," wrote Baring.[127]

In 1956, Baring's administration devised the "dilution technique" — a system of assaults and psychological shocks to detainees, to force the compliance of the toughest Mau Mau supporters. Lennox-Boyd was told that one commander, Terrence Gavaghan, had developed the techniques at the Mwea camps in central Kenya - and he needed permission to treat the worst detainees in a "rough way". Baring telegrammed the Colonial Secretary in London asking for his approval to use "overpowering" force, and the cabinet minister's approval came within weeks. A ministerial delegation saw firsthand prisoners beaten for refusing to don camp clothes. Ringleaders of the "Mau Mau moan" - a chant of defiance - were singled out for special punishment. They were beaten and forced to the ground. Once there, a boot was placed on their throat while mud was forced into their mouths. Gavaghan also explained how difficult detainees would be subjected to the "third degree". "The measures adopted were to be kept awake all night, having water thrown at him and to be beaten up on a variety of pretexts."[127]

One Hanslope Park document is a letter between Kenyan Special Branch police officers about treatment of "fanatical" detainees at the Mwea camps.

If they deny having taken an oath they are given summary punishment which usually consists of a good beating up. This treatment usually breaks a large proportion. If this treatment does not bear fruit the detainee is taken to the far end of the camp where buckets of stone are waiting. These buckets are placed on the detainee's head and he is made to run around in circles until he agrees to confess the oath.[127]

In June 1957, Eric Griffith-Jones, the attorney general of the British administration in Kenya, wrote to Baring, detailing the way the regime of abuse at the colony's detention camps was being subtly altered. He said that the mistreatment of the detainees is "distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia". Despite this, he said that in order for abuse to remain legal, Mau Mau suspects must be beaten mainly on their upper body, "vulnerable parts of the body should not be struck, particularly the spleen, liver or kidneys", and it was important that "those who administer violence ... should remain collected, balanced and dispassionate". He also agreed to draft legislation that sanctioned beatings, as long as the abuse was kept secret, and reminded the governor that "If we are going to sin," he wrote, "we must sin quietly."[128][129]

Northern Ireland

During the Troubles, members of the British Army and the British security forces had routinely used torture on Irish Republican Army (IRA) suspects in Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom.

In 1971, as part of Operation Demetrius, fourteen arrested men were subjected to a program of "deep interrogation" at a secret interrogation centre. The interrogation methods involved sensory deprivation and were referred to as the "five techniques". The European Court of Human Rights defined them as wall-standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink. For seven days, when not being interrogated, the detainees were kept hooded and handcuffed in a cold cell and subjected to a continuous loud hissing noise. Here they were forced to stand in a stress position for many hours and were deprived of sleep, food and drink. They were also repeatedly beaten, and some reported being kicked in the genitals, having their heads banged against walls and being threatened with injections. The effect was severe pain, severe physical and mental exhaustion, severe anxiety, depression, hallucinations, disorientation and repeated loss of consciousness.[130][131]

The fourteen so-called "Hooded Men" were the only detainees subjected to all five techniques together. Some other detainees were subjected to at least one of the five techniques, along with other interrogation methods.[132] These allegedly included waterboarding,[133] electric shocks, burning with matches and candles, forcing internees to stand over hot electric fires while beating them, beating and squeezing of the genitals, inserting objects into the anus, injections, whipping the soles of the feet, and psychological abuse such as Russian roulette.[132]

Details of the "deep interrogation" program became known to the public, sparking outrage. In response, the British Government commissioned an inquiry, under Lord Parker, to look into the five techniques. In 1972 the 'Parker Report' concluded that the five techniques were illegal under domestic law. British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, then announced that the five techniques would no longer be used under his government. However, he said that if a future British government decided to reintroduce them, it would need to be approved by Parliament.[134]

The Irish Government had begun international legal action against the British Government over the Hooded Men in 1971. In 1976, the European Commission of Human Rights ruled that the program of deep interrogation, using the five techniques, amounted to "torture".[135] The case was then referred to the European Court of Human Rights. In 1978 it ruled that the program amounted to "inhuman and degrading treatment" which breached the European Convention on Human Rights, but did not amount to torture.[135] In 2014, evidence emerged that the British Government had withheld information from the Court. Following these revelations, the Irish Government announced in December 2014 that it would be asking the Court to review its judgement and acknowledge the five techniques as torture.[136]

The Court's ruling, that the five techniques did not amount to torture, was later cited by the United States and Israel to justify their own interrogation methods.[137]

21st century

On 23 February 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:

Anyone with a shred of human decency would be revolted by what is contained in those pictures. The actions of you and those responsible for these acts have undoubtedly tarnished the international reputation of the British Army and, to some extent, the British nation too, and it will no doubt hamper the efforts of those who are now risking their lives striving to achieve stability in the Gulf region, and it will probably be used by those who are working against such ends.
Judge Advocate Michael Hunter

At the court martial,[138] the prosecution alleged that in giving the order to "work [the prisoners] hard", Captain Dan Taylor had broken the Geneva Conventions. Neither Taylor, nor his commanding officer Lt-Col Paterson (who was briefed on the operation "Ali Baba" by Taylor), was 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, 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[139][140][141][142]

The incidents depicted are in direct contradiction to the core values and standards of the British Army ... Nevertheless, in the light of the evidence from this trial I do apologize on behalf of the army to those Iraqis who were abused and to the people of Iraq as a whole.
General Sir Mike Jackson

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 that centuries of common law and recent international conventions made torture anathema in the country's courts. Lord Bingham said it was "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 said "The use of torture is dishonourable. It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it."; Lord Hope said it was "one of most evil practices known to man"; Lord Rodgers said "the unacceptable nature of torture ... has long been unquestioned in this country."; Lord Carswell referred to the "abhorrence felt by civilised nations for the use of torture"; and Lord Brown said that "torture is an unqualified evil. It can never be justified. Rather it must always be punished.".[143]

On 13 March 2007, the six-month court martial of the seven soldiers – 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, being acquitted.[144][145] 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.[146][147][148]

In March 2008, the Ministry of Defence admitted 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.[149] 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."[150]

On 26 July 2008, the Joint Committee on Human Rights accused Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram in 2004 and Lieutenant-General Robin Brims, Commander Field Army, in 2006 of misleading the committee when they declared that conditioning practices (based on the five techniques, banned since their use 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".[151]

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 taken place within its borders and on its government's behalf outside of its borders.

On 13 December 1999, NYPD officer Justin Volpe was sentenced to thirty years in prison for sodomizing detainee Abner Louima with the handle of a bathroom plunger.[152][153]

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."[154] 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."[155]

In 2003 and 2004 there was substantial controversy over the "stress and duress" methods that were used in the U.S. War on Terrorism that had been sanctioned by the U.S. Executive branch of government at Cabinet level.[156]

Amnesty International and numerous commentators have accused the Military Commissions Act of 2006 of 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.[157][158][159]

In an interview with the Washington Post, the convening authority of the Guantanamo military commissions, Susan J. Crawford, a retired judge, who was responsible for reviewing practices at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, said of one Guantanamo Bay detainee, "his treatment met the legal definition of torture, and that is why I did not refer the case" for prosecution.[160] The U.S. Government denies that torture is being conducted in the detention camps at Guantanamo Bay.[161][162]

It was reported in June 2008 that, according to human rights lawyers, the USA was "operating floating prisons to house those arrested in its war on terror":

"According to research carried out by Reprieve, the US may have used as many as 17 ships as 'floating prisons' since 2001. Detainees are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations, it is claimed. Ships that are understood to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu. A further 15 ships are suspected of having operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which has been used as a military base by the UK and the Americans.
... The Reprieve study includes the account of a prisoner released from Guantánamo Bay, who described a fellow inmate's story of detention on an amphibious assault ship. 'One of my fellow prisoners in Guantánamo was at sea on an American ship with about 50 others before coming to Guantánamo ... he was in the cage next to me. He told me that there were about 50 other people on the ship. They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on TV. The people held on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantánamo.'"[163]


After an investigating visit to Uzbekistan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Theo van Boven concluded:[164]

Even though only a small number of torture cases can be proved with absolute certainty, the copious testimonies gathered ... are so consistent in their description of torture techniques and the places and circumstances in which torture is perpetrated that the pervasive and persistent nature of torture throughout the investigative process cannot be denied.
Theo van Boven

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."[165] (For example, see Muzafar Avazov.)

In 2003, Britain's Ambassador for Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, said 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.[166]

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  163. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture, UN Commission on Human Rights, February 2003.
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