Resources for information on the United Nations Convention against Torture

Caution! These pictures may be upsetting! Torture techniques vary widely. What is shown is only a tiny example.

This confinement board is located in a Polish torture museum, but similar devices still exist and are used all over the world by any regime you care to name.
This confinement board is located in a Polish torture museum, but similar devices still exist and are used all over the world by any regime you care to name.
Protests against torture go on all the time where ever it is still reasonably safe to do so.
Protests against torture go on all the time where ever it is still reasonably safe to do so.
This Amnesty International photo shows a protester calling on the UN to acknowledge that torture is going on.
This Amnesty International photo shows a protester calling on the UN to acknowledge that torture is going on.
This detainee is handcuffed in a stress position. He has no choice in this nor how long he has to endure this. Some are left for days without food, water or rest.
This detainee is handcuffed in a stress position. He has no choice in this nor how long he has to endure this. Some are left for days without food, water or rest.
This illustrates the basics of water boarding, now identified as intensive interrogation,
This illustrates the basics of water boarding, now identified as intensive interrogation,
This drawing shows another way water boarding is effected, by force feeding so much water, it nearly causes drowning.
This drawing shows another way water boarding is effected, by force feeding so much water, it nearly causes drowning.
Nazis used stress position torture among a host of other techniques. Some of these techniques including stress positions are still used today.
Nazis used stress position torture among a host of other techniques. Some of these techniques including stress positions are still used today.
This infamous picture is one of many that implicated the US military in practicing torture.
This infamous picture is one of many that implicated the US military in practicing torture.

Torture has been around at least as long as civilization and there are attempts to control and stop it.

The 2009 decision of Obama to censure photos and videos depicting torture committed by US soldiers and police and renaming the practice "intensive interrogation techniques" has brought the whole question of what and what is not torture. What we need to determine what torture really is and what can be done as far as information and action there is to put an end to such a practice. Torture has been around as long as civilization and the claim to civility is violated by such barbaric tactics to force compliance by pain or threat of pain and crippling. Psychological torture is done to disorient, drive mad and trigger a desire for suicide. Torture no matter how it is affected, flies in the face of various conventions concerning torture, among which are the UN convention against torture, both the US and Canadian Charter of rights concerning cruel and unusual punishment and the Geneva convention concerning the use of torture in war. Torture has been redefined as anything that does not cause obvious pain. Thus, the use of prolonged stress positions, water boarding, sleep deprivation and psychological techniques are no longer considered to be torture.

Everyone knows the stress pain that comes from doing an activity they are not used to for hours on end. It can happen at work where a person is assigned a new activity they have not done. It can occur after a long winter of quiet and suddenly doing a lot of gardening in spring. These sudden changes in activity can induce stress related pain. In an enclave where stress positioning is enforced at the point of a gun, by threats, withholding of food or water or inside a concertina wire cage, a person is forced to hold a position for hours on end without moving. Sometimes this can go on for days. This may be with arms extended horizontally to the floor on either side; it might be on tiptoe facing a blank wall, stooped over or a host of other stress inducing positions that are unnaturally held for a long time. In hatha yoga, this is corrected by doing counter moves to balance the system, positions are not held so long as to cripple and it is voluntary. In stress positioning, this is not done or voluntary so that the person begins to feel uncomfortable to begin with and ending in crippling pain thereafter they are forced to move at gunpoint.

When a person is placed in a confined space, if it is dark or they are surrounded by razor sharp concertina wire, this can have an extremely negative impact. In a concertina wire cage they are forced to stay in a fixed position or risk cutting themselves into ribbons. They are forced to stand in awkward positions and denied sleep, sometimes up to eleven days in such an environment. They are given just enough water and food to hang on. Sometimes these are poisoned to increase the effects of "interrogation."

Water boarding has been around since the days of the witch hunts and is done by several ways. The crudest method is to lay a person in a confined supine position, put a cloth over their face and pour water over the cloth. The cloth soaks up the water and prevents air from getting in. Other methods of water boarding are done by "force feeding" of water with a funnel. Another is by dunking. The person receiving the torture feels like they are drowning. With care, they are brought right to the brink of death and then allowed just long enough to recover before the torture starts again. This is done dozens of times. Sometimes they do drown, but usually not. The torture is designed to get them to confess to terrorism or to reveal information to the torturer. If you have ever had a choking incident with something lodged in your throat where you cannot breathe, you will get a sense of water boarding effects. Now imagine going into a choking incident several times and you get the idea. This treatment of fellow human beings is repugnant and it this is not enough, we do this to animals for experimental purposes.

Sleep deprivation is another technique used to get confessions. This practice has been used in prisons against political prisoners, prisoners of war and undesirable minorities. For reasons that science is not yet completely aware; we need sleep. But science is aware that sleep deprivation whether voluntary or enforced can lead to immunity reduction and interfere with wakeful awareness such as narcolepsy and disorientation. Those who do shift work and can't get proper sleep in the day, suffer from sleep deprivation symptoms which can include heart problems, reduced immunity and a reduced life span. Sleep deprivation is used in the war against terror and the idea is to break the prisoner by force and get compliance.

Complete sensory deprivation for 48 hours was discovered by a Canadian psychologist who found that a person would become psychotic after this process. The process is very simple to effect, leaves no telltale physical marks and it's almost impossible to cure. Once subjected to this kind of torture under constant threat, a person winds up insane and recovery is unlikely. Usually information is not produced, so it appears to be more of a cruel and unusual punishment than an information extraction technique. This kind of thing is usually done to someone who is perceived to have committed an act of terror or war. The damage done is virtually permanent.

Another means of mental torture was discovered by psychoactive drugging, using powerful drugs like LSD to disorient and terrify the recipient. The effects are enhanced by introducing some audio visual stimulation of a terrifying nature. By now there are a wide range of these drugs, some of which enhance fear, some causing enhanced activity and others like tetrodotoxin paralyzing without killing the host, causing an insane fear due to utter helplessness in the presence of the enemy. Under the influence of tetrodotoxin, the person is still conscious. There are of course, a huge array of torture techniques learned over the centuries as practiced by imperialist states like Rome, China, the church, the modern military and various interest groups. Torture methods vary in severity, but all have negative effects, not the least of which is long term hatred and wish for vengeance.

These are the kinds of things that now fall under "intensive interrogation techniques". We have to wonder, why torture? Unusually it is considered that there is something to gain from such a practice and so it is practiced. Most of us are against torture and may even know people who have suffered from enduring such an experience in one form or another described above that has permanently altered their physical and mental abilities. It could have come from almost any source and can be as close as the immediate neighborhood. Perhaps torture is not so much an information extraction technique as an instrument of intimidation used as a public display to create an atmosphere of compliance. Now that this is under a furtive form of censorship, the message may be redoubled to create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.

The UN convention of torture defines it clearly;

"For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions." (1) Torture is often done to intimidate people from expressing their rights of freedom of speech and thought, which is supposedly guaranteed for many places in the world. Laws can be altered to allow for things formerly illegal, which describes lawful sanctions. This is the loophole that “intensive interrogation” stepped through.

The right to freedom of speech is recognized as a fundamental human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also recognized in the international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR recognizes the right to the freedom of speech as "...the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression". (2) Furthermore freedom of speech is recognized in European, Canadian, US and African regional human rights law. However, post 9-11 has seen a lot of changes that for the US, gives sanction to eliminate these freedoms.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International (3) is a monitoring and reporting agency that is supported by good will donations from around the world that seeks to expose and end torture. They will even attempt to intervene in some situations in a bid to stop torture. Amnesty International also supports human rights for everyone and exposes violations of rights as they occur. Amnesty has had some success in their field of endeavor, but the problem is massive and needs a lot more input.

Partisan Defense Committee

The Partisan Defense Committee (PDC) (4) is a Marxist organization that stands up for, raises funds for legal costs and publishes information on political prisoners around the world. It is an arm of the International Communist League and seeks to obtain the release of political prisoners where they are found. In the US, the PDC is currently involved with Mumia Abu Jamal, raising funds for his legal costs and seeking to stay his execution for a charge of a murder that was not adequately handled in the courts. So far, their efforts have managed to stay his execution, but have not succeeded in getting a retrial and release, even though a confessor is known for the murder. The PDC work for the release of Geronimo Pratt and influenced the decision for his release. There are numerous other prisoners which they fight for, some of which have been tortured.

Resources to deal with torture:

The US Charter of rights concerning cruel and unusual punishments is contained in the Eight Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments. The phrases used are borrowed from the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Legal cases have caused some confusion resulting in the Court has not ruling on whether the Excessive Bail or Excessive Fines Clauses apply to the states. This has left for some wiggle room for detaining prisoners indefinitely without cause. (5)

The Canadian Charter of rights concerning cruel and unusual punishment. Section Twelve of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Canadian counterpart to the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter became part of the Canadian Constitution in 1982 and therefore any violation can now be subject to a constitutional challenge. Section 12 tells us that everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. (6) Canadian sentences tend to be less than those in the US and the death penalty was abolished in 1977, whereas in the states they have been revived. Further the US now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

United Nations Convention against torture

The convention begins with the following in Article 1: "1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."

Point 2 of the second article is also important. "2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." (7)

These should serve as a guide to nation states, but they are seldom followed and there are seemingly endless cases of torture, cruel and unusual punishment being inflicted that we hear of on the news daily.

Human Rights website:

http://www.un.org/en/rights/

http://www.hrw.org/

References:

1. http://velvetrevolution.us/torture_lawyers/docs/UN_Convention_on_Torture.pdf

2. Andrew Puddephatt, Freedom of Expression, The essentials of Human Rights, Hodder Arnold, 2005, pg.128

3. Amnesty International: - http://www.amnesty.org/

4. Partisan Defense Committee - http://www.partisandefense.org/

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eighth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_Twelve_of_the_Canadian_Charter_of_Rights_and_Freedoms

7. From the UN Convention on Torture.pdf

Torture, the Guantanamo Bay Guidebook

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