Torture

Captured Viet Cong soldier, blindfolded and tied in a stress position by American forces during the Vietnam War, 1967

Torture is the deliberate infliction of severe pain or suffering on a person for reasons such as punishment, extracting a confession, interrogation for information, or intimidating third parties. Some definitions are restricted to acts carried out by the state, but others include non-state organizations.

Torture has been carried out since ancient times. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Western countries abolished the official use of torture in the judicial system, but torture continued to be used throughout the world. A variety of methods of torture are used, often in combination; the most common form of physical torture is beatings. Since the twentieth century, many torturers have preferred non-scarring or psychological methods to provide deniability. Torturers are enabled by organizations that facilitate and encourage their behavior. Most victims of torture are poor and marginalized people suspected of crimes, although torture against political prisoners or during armed conflict has received disproportionate attention. Judicial corporal punishment and capital punishment are sometimes seen as forms of torture, but this label is internationally controversial.

Torture aims to break the victim's will and destroy their agency and personality. It is one of the most devastating experiences that a person can undergo and can also negatively affect perpetrating individuals and institutions. Public opinion research has shown general opposition to torture. Torture is prohibited under international law for all states under all circumstances and is explicitly forbidden by several treaties. Opposition to torture stimulated the formation of the human rights movement after World War II, and torture continues to be an important human rights issue. Although its incidence has declined, torture is still practiced by most countries.


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