the action or practice of inflicting severe pain or suffering on someone as a punishment or in order to force them to do or say something.

Torture and the United States

Torture and the United States includes documented and alleged cases of torture both inside and outside the United States by members of the government, the militarylaw enforcement agenciesintelligence agencieshealth care services, and other public organizations.

While the term “torture” is defined in numerous places, including dictionaries and encyclopedias of various nations or cultures, this article addresses only those practices qualifying as torture under the definition of that term articulated in the codified (primarily statutory) law and case law of the United States.[nb 1] After the U.S. dismissed United Nations concerns about torture in 2006,[1] one UK judge observed ‘America’s idea of what is torture … does not appear to coincide with that of most civilized nations’.[2] A two-year study by U.S. independent group The Constitution Project concluded that it was “indisputable” that U.S. forces had employed torture as well as “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” in many interrogations; that “the nation’s most senior officials” bear ultimate responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of these techniques, and that there is substantial evidence that information obtained by these methods was neither useful nor reliable.


Legislation, regulation, and treaties regarding torture[edit]

Torture is illegal and punishable within U.S. territorial bounds[citation needed]. Prosecution of abuse occurring on foreign soil, outside of usual U.S. territorial jurisdiction, is difficult.

Prohibition under domestic law[edit]

Bill of Rights[edit]

It is debated as to whether or not torture as a punishment falls under the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The text of the Amendment states that:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held since at least the 1890s that punishments which involved torture are forbidden under the Eighth Amendment.[3]

18 U.S.C. § 2340 (the “Torture Act”)[edit]

An act of torture committed outside the United States by a U.S. national or a non-U.S. national who is present in the United States is punishable under 18 U.S.C. § 2340. The definition of torture used is as follows:

As used in this chapter—

(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—

(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and
(3) “United States” means the several states of the United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealthsterritories, and possessions of the United States.

Military Commissions Act of 2006[edit]

In October 2006, the United States enacted the Military Commissions Act of 2006, authorizing the President to conduct military tribunals of enemy combatants and to hold them indefinitely without judicial review under the terms of habeas corpus. Testimony coerced through humiliating or degrading treatment would be admissible in the tribunals. Amnesty International and others have criticized the Act for approving a system that uses torture, destroying the mechanisms for judicial review created by Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, and creating a parallel legal system below international standards.[4][5][6] Part of the act was an amendment that retroactively rewrote the War Crimes Act, effectively making policymakers (i.e., politicians and military leaders), and those applying policy (i.e., Central Intelligence Agency interrogators and U.S. soldiers), no longer subject to legal prosecution under U.S. law for what, before the amendment, was defined as a war crime, such as torture.[7] Because of that, critics describe the MCA as an amnesty law for crimes committed during the War on Terror.[8][9]

4 thoughts on “Torture

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