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The paper explores the definition of the word “torture”. General information concerning peculiarities of the term has been analyzed. At present, the problem of torture is as pressing as issues of slavery and terrorism. Nowadays, the definition of torture is ambiguous and vague. In general, torture is considered to be an illegal act that deals with the use of force and cruel treatment. Application of torture is banned because it does not correspond to the code of ethics and moral values. Almost all constitutions, conventions, and laws of various countries include statutes that reject the use of different methods and types of torture. Furthermore, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provide the basic idea that torture is illegal, amoral, and inhuman. Despite the fact that tortures are still used against criminals and terrorists in many countries, the purpose of the paper is to provide evidence in order to prove that torture should be banned.
Keywords: torture, human rights, convention, technique, felon, terrorist


Introduction to the Topic. The Definition of Torture

Estimation of the scope of torture can be considered as a pressing law matter. Many nationalities around the globe are strong supporters of the idea that torture must be banned, condemned, and rejected. Nowadays, there are multiple definitions of the phenomenon “torture”. However, an appropriate definition of torture is beneficial for a number of reasons. First of all, governments and public officials are required to understand the term “torture” in an appropriate way in order to estimate how this problem should be abolished. The term is often used in transnational conventions, laws, and agreements. Many nations have disputes with each other on the questions concerning acceptance or amorality of torture. As a result of disagreements on this issue, numerous obstacles concerning avoiding and punishing of torture become inevitable (Miller, 2005).

At present, the problem of torture is as pressing as issues of slavery, discrimination, and terrorism. It is binding together all countries in the world. It violates not only basic human rights, but human dignity as well. The primary duty of every country is to ensure freedom from torture to all residents. Under no circumstances, people should live in mortal fear of dying because of torture (Evans, 2005).

Torture is a serious negligence of human rights as well as a significant transnational crime. Nowadays, the use of torture is forbidden because it does not meet the code of ethics and moral values. Almost all constitutions of different nations include statutes that reject the use of various methods and types of torture. Torture can be explained as an illegal act that is based on the application of physical and mental pain towards a person. According to the definition of the Convention of the United Nations against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, a “torture” can be defined as an illegitimate act that is accompanied by suffering and severe ache. Torture is usually applied for several reasons: to obtain information, to punish, or to make somebody confess. It is rather important to note that any form of physical and mental suffering is prohibited. Torture includes a vast range of illegal misdoings. The most wide-spread of them are as follows: beating, sexual abuse, pulling of nails, use of electric shocks, excessive heat and cold, rape, and absolute isolation. At present, threatening to kill parents, relatives, or familiar people is widely applied as well. The definition of “victims” of torture should be examined in order to understand what people become “preys” of torture and for what reasons. Correspondingly, victims of torture can include separate individuals and groups of people who feel physical suffering, emotional pain, and loss in financial and economic spheres. The major consequence of torture is violation and breach of basic human rights. Regardless of nationality, gender, or religious beliefs, anyone can become a victim of torture (Gries, 2006).

The United Nations stresses the fact that torture is the most exceptional and severe type of human brutality. The definition provided by the UN is extended and complete (Costanzo & Gerrity, 2009). It incorporates a series of techniques and methods that are widely applied in order to cause physical and mental pain with various purposes. The leadership of the United Nations differentiates seven basic subtypes of torture:

  • torture that deals with sexual abuse (rape);
  • physical suffering (bodily violence, burning);
  • psychological threat and menace (when a person is forced to become a witness of torture);
  • various types of derogation and humiliation (a state of being naked);
  • stressful situations (when a person is forced to sit, stand, or lie for a relatively long period of time);
  • inconvenience (excessive cold, heat);
  • deprivation of basic human demands (water, food, sleep) (Costanzo & Gerrity, 2009).

Personal Position towards Torture

Having analyzed various sources of literature, including the Constitution and numerous conventions, I support the idea that all methods and types of torture should be banned by law. There are numerous conventions and treaties that are united by a common credo that torture is illegal and does not correspond to the law. The most famous of these documents are as follows:

  • Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Article 5);
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 7);
  • European Convention on Human Rights;
  • American Convention on Human Rights.

According to all these documents, torture must be rejected and abandoned. In 1987, the CAT was implemented by the General Assembly of the United Nations in order to provide a generally accepted definition of the term “torture”. According to the definition of the CAT, torture deals with an intentional and forethought physical and mental painful act or suffering. This definition comprises the following key elements:

  • intense ache or suffering;
  • intention;
  • purpose;
  • involvement of public person;
  • absence of painful acts that can cause suffering (Miller, 2005).
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Furthermore, I suppose that the phenomenon of torture deals with amorality. There is no doubt that torture was an effective means of punishment in ancient civilizations, but nowadays there are more efficient techniques for getting information and for penalty.

Therefore, torture can be considered in most cases as an absolutely inefficient and unproductive method as it forces a person to confess in everything in order to reduce or stop suffering. That means that a person gives confession even in those crimes and misdoings she/he has not done. Many officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency emphasize that torture does not guarantee trustworthy and reliable data (Block, 2008).

Torture is an inefficient means of interrogation. The lack of effect was proved by Jurist Ulpian as early as in the third century A. D. when he stated that confession obtained with the help of torture was invalid and untruthful. Ulpian states that means and methods of torture are usually so inhuman, severe, and abusive that a person agrees to lie or even to die instead of bearing torture (Costanzo & Gerrity, 2009). However, it is rather important to stress that in some cases torture can lead to the disclosure of faithful and adequate information. In addition, some survivors of torturing affirm that reliable information is mixed with deficient and untruthful. It has been estimated that in most cases victims of torture resort to fabrication of non-existent or inadequate information in order to lessen or weaken suffering and pain (Costanzo & Gerrity, 2009).

Many people who witnessed or participated in torture during the war in Vietnam in the past assure that they had an opportunity to meet huge masses of captives who were ready to tell everything in order not to be subjected to torturing. Correspondingly, because of the fact that torture is held secretly, there are no results concerning connection between torture and untruthful confessions (Chazelle, 2009). The main idea is that torture may extract an involuntary confession and huge quantities of information. At the same time, inappropriate data obtained through torturing may lead to numerous negative consequences. First of all, it wastes time and strengths. Secondly, false information subjects soldiers to take the risk. Moreover, inadequate data threatens health and life of absolutely innocent people (Evans, 2005).

The phenomenon of torture threatens safety and life of citizens. People who have experienced torture have a strong will to take revenge. In my opinion, torture is a reply for fright, disillusion, and despair. On the contrary, the rule of law, nonviolent means, and peaceful negotiations can settle disputes and conflicts (Chazelle, 2009).

The United States of America has always fought for human rights and freedoms. However, the administration of George Bush has altered this idea drastically. It is usually stated that Bush administration has been proved to be immoral, unethical, and illegal. The administration of Bush is recognized to support various types and methods of torture. Furthermore, American leadership has lied for years and manipulated information and data. Despite the fact that every religion, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, rejects and blames torturing, there are many proofs that American administration participated directly in torture. For instance,

President George Bush has openly condemned amendment of McCain that banned torturing. Numerous reports by journalists, including the announcement by Dick Marty from Switzerland, confirm that more than ten dozens of people were secretly transported to or from European countries by the Central Intelligence Agency in the USA for the purpose of torturing. The Committee of the Red Cross claims that many prisoners are subjected to inhuman treatment and various types of torturing (Gries, 2006). Furthermore, Bush administration can be blamed for lies and falsehood. Taking into consideration basic considerations of all religions, truth is considered to be the ground principle. Recently, in the interview the American leadership has tried to convince population that they have never resorted to force, violence, and torture. However, the whole world knows that the management of Bush has applied the most inhuman torture techniques (Gries, 2006).

Statistics. World Public Opinion Poll on Torture

With the ever-growing importance of democracy around the globe, public opinion polls can be considered as integral elements in international processes. Nowadays, there is a special project named World Public Opinion that deals with transnational issues, including the question of torturing. The founder of this project is the Oak Foundation (Kull et al., 2008).

This project is aimed to establish thoughts, beliefs, and opinions of people from various nationalities around the world. Around 20,000 participants from various nationalities were questioned. Among nineteen countries that took part in the survey, there were China, Nigeria, Indonesia, Britain, Spain, Ukraine, Thailand, and many others (Kull et al., 2008).

According to the estimations of the World Public Opinion poll, fourteen countries out of nineteen support the idea that torturing is illegal. Four nationalities suppose that torturing can be applied as an effective method of interrogation against terrorists. However, in general, torture is treated by majorities in nineteen countries as an inhuman, immoral, and illegal cruel treatment (Kull et al., 2008).

Over 57 % of polled state that torturing is unacceptable in any case. Besides, more than 30 % stress that torturing may be admissible when life of innocent people is at risk. Only 9 % are convinced that torturing may be applied by government for various purposes. Such nationalities as Spain, France, Great Britain, and China vote for an absolute ban of torturing. These countries are followed by the United States of America, Poland, Ukraine, and Egypt. Less than 50 % of overall population in Russia, South Korea, and Iran emphasize that torture is an illegal and inhuman technique (Kull et al., 2008).

As a result, according to the survey, China and Turkey believe that governments should be allowed to torture. On the contrary, only four percent of population in Great Britain and France are convinced that torture is acceptable (Kull et al., 2008). All countries that have taken part in the poll are considered to be signatories of various agreements, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other conventions. Fifteen countries out of nineteen joined the Convention of United Nations against Torture in 1987. The only nation that has rejected this convention is Iran (Kull et al., 2008). 

It is rather important to stress that population in Mexico approves and follows all the rules against using tortures, including cases with terrorists. Seventy three percent of citizens of Mexico absolutely abandon tortures. Only seven percent of the overall population affirms that torture should be allowed in order to make a person confess. On the contrary, in the United States of America more than ten percent stress that various types of torture should be allowed. France, Spain, and Great Britain are characterized as three countries with unequivocal techniques against torturing. In details, eighty two percent absolutely blame torture as a violation of basic human rights, while only four percent support the general idea, that torturing techniques are effective (Kull et al., 2008). Forty nine percent of Russians argue that the use of torture is appropriate under no circumstances. At the same time, more than thirty five percent stress that governments are obliged to apply various methods of torture against terrorists. The majority of Ukrainians pursue the general idea that torturing should be not only avoided, but prohibited by the constitution of every country. Moreover, twenty six percent of the population supports the prevailing idea that terrorists must be subjected to tortures, while eight percent of citizens of Ukraine assure that they positively treat the phenomenon of torture and its legality (Kull et al., 2008).


A vast number of countries of the Middle East and Eurasia have taken part in the public opinion poll as well. Consequently, more than fifty percent of inhabitants of Azerbaijan stress that torture should be banned by the leadership of each state. In Egypt, the majority of people strictly follow the rule against torture. However, despite this statistics, above six percent of Egyptians suppose that these techniques are more useful and effective than all other methods. In Iran, the percentage of people who support torture is equal to eight, while on territories of Palestine less than five percent of citizens abandon torture in all situations, including cases with terrorists and extremists (Kull et al., 2008). Fifty one percent of the population of Turkey emphasizes that the torture should be allowed by the government for cases when terrorists are involved. At the same time, almost twenty percent of citizens stress that torture is not illegal. Chinese nationality can be described as one of the leading countries that strive against abolishment of torture techniques. Only one-fifth of the overall population of the country is persuaded that violence and torture have nothing in common. India is one of the countries that are characterized by the highest rate concerning the use of torture against terrorists. In contrast, the percentage of people who vote for the legality of torture is equal to twenty eight percent (Kull et al., 2008). Speaking about Indonesia, it is rather important to note that more than sixty percent of the population in the country stress that the government is obliged to provide an accurate and clear definition of the notion of “torture” in order to estimate who has to be a victim of torture. Only six percent in Indonesia and thirteen percent in South Korea insist on the fact that torture should not be banned on the national and local levels. Finally, more than forty percent of the population in Thailand affirms that torture should be applied to terrorists, while less than ten percent support the idea that this phenomenon does not meet the articles of the constitution (Kull et al., 2008).

Proponents and Opponents of Torture

Besides the fact that an absolute ban should be imposed on torture, as a rule, torture is regarded to be an extreme method of cruelty and ferocity. Torture destroys not only human soul, but individuality in general. No document, agreement, or convention accords a right to one person to capture, treat someone cruelly, inflict pain, and torture. Furthermore, cruelty is connected with malice, hate, lack of courage, and cowardice as a prisoner or hostage cannot run away and withstand or defend himself/herself (Einolf, 2007). As a result, the captive feels as a “living death”. It is senseless to adduce convincing proofs concerning morality of torture because if torture corresponds to the law of ethics and moral values, then nothing else is amoral and wrong (Mayerfeld, 2008).

Moreover, torture is not only banned by constitutions and conventions, but is strongly criticized by experts in the spheres of religion and philosophy. For instance, according to the theory from the New Testament, “people do not have respect for the image of God in the other human beings.” Correspondingly, this theory negatively influences not only a tortured person, but a torturer as well. The New Testament provides the humanity with a basic idea that all people should be loved and respected as they are created in “God’s likeness.” As a result, the use of torture is never morally right. Therefore, torture annihilates human dignity. Captured people do not have an opportunity to take delight from luxurious accommodations and exotic cuisine. Furthermore, captives are usually not provided with basic human needs, such as water and food. Telling the truth, to respect human identity and dignity means to provide a person with conditions and treatment he/she deserves. Consequently, the ban of torture, violence, and amoral treatment means that no one can be subjected to torture. The problem is that people may be mistaken and, as a result of it, an innocent person, instead of a terrorist or a felon, may suffer from cruelty (McCready, 2007).

The morality of torture should always be analyzed from the religious perspective. The Christian approach towards the ethics of torture was created and developed by Elshtain. The peculiarity of his religious point of view is that he believes in forgiveness and kindness of a human soul and heart. Elshtain supports the idea that the use of violence is unnecessary because “the victory over victim is not the victory over the evil.” Because of this supposition, governments of all countries should impose serious sanctions against torture. Consequently, the duty of a victim is to ask for forgiveness. Elshtain emphasizes that there are no violent and heartless people in the world. Instead, there are human beings who are not fully aware of severe consequences of their wrongdoings. It is better to prey for forgiveness, than to be subjected to torture. Besides, a guilty person has an opportunity to beg for pardon. As a result, pardon can annul the penalty, but not the guilt of the criminal. The main idea is that a wrongdoing remains a wrongdoing and a felon remains a felon (McCready, 2007). To torture a human being is to dishonor the person’s dignity and to treat a human as if he/she is not worth to be treated like a human.

Taking into consideration the traditional philosophical approach concerning torture associated with I. Kant, “we must in no case treat captivated people in a way we wouldn’t like to be treated permanently.” According to the philosophical approach, torture must be prohibited not because of illegality, but because of amorality (McCready, 2007).

Despite the worldwide condemnation of torture, this phenomenon has numerous proponents. For instance, professor Mirko Bagaric in one of his interviews stated that all forms of torture were appropriate when something threatened life of innocent people.
An Australian lawyer is convinced that “a society should kill one person if thousands are saved instead.” Alan Dershowitz in his book Why Terrorism Works states that “in case torture is the unique mean for interrogation necessary to avert the explosion of nuclear bomb on the territory of Times Square, torture is required” (Aramovich, Lytle, & Skitka, 2011).

In 2005, Albert Mohler analyzed the issue of using torture. As an example, he used the problem of using torture by American military forces against terrorists in order to obtain secret information. It is important to note that Albert Mohler supports all kinds of torture and cruel treatment. In his report, he states that “under certain circumstances, cry as well as physical intimidation can be applied towards criminals. Furthermore, in more serious cases the victim should be deprived of food, water, sleep and other basic human needs. In the most extreme cases torture is favorable for the purpose of obtaining information” (Aramovich et al., 2011).

However, despite the vast number of philosophers, lawyers, and other proponents of torture, there are many people who condemn this method even in the most extreme cases. Torture is sometimes referred to as a “cancer of morality” or a “cancer of democracy.”

The author of the book Torture: Does It Make Us Safer? Is it Ever Ok? rejects the use of torture against all criminals, including terrorists. In his book, he describes various European and American conventions that treat torture from a radical point of view. The author assures that all people on the planet are equal and their rights should be the same. Michael Ignatieff on the basis of the book Moral prohibition at a Price makes a conclusion that torture as a means of interrogation should be banned because of its ineffectiveness and amorality (Aramovich et al., 2011). The author pays attention to the concept of “moral purity” that does not correspond to the phenomenon of torture. At the same time, Ignatieff stresses that an absolute ban on torture is impossible until there are people in various countries who support the concept of torture. Moreover, the author presents an interesting idea that “people cannot torture, because of who they are.” Ignatieff emphasizes that instead of harsh methods of interrogation, terrorists should be treated with understanding and support because, according to the author’s views, it will promote a healthy atmosphere for communication with felons or terrorists and, correspondingly, it will be beneficial for settling of a conflict (Aramovich et al., 2011).

James Ross, author of the book A History of Torture, can be treated as a loyal opponent of punishment, cruel treatment, and torture. He votes for absolute judicial prohibition of torture even in extreme cases. In his book, the author pays attention to irrational, illogical, and unfair nature of torture. As a result of torture many innocent people can get into trouble or even die. Both authors, Ross and Ignatieff, agree upon the fact that governments of countries are responsible for all cases of tortures.

Furthermore, the authors are deeply surprised by the fact that until now torture is supported by a huge percentage of people around the globe. In order to abandon torture, “minds and hearts” of people should be changed (Chazelle, 2009). The problem is that the majority of people assume that torture forces felons and terrorists to talk and reveal the truth. Unfortunately, as Ross and Ignatieff stress, torture has a direct connection to violence and sadism. The most useful and efficient approach to questioning of prisoners is a direct approach. That means that torture techniques and punishment must be avoided.


Defining the boundaries of what is known as “torture” has emerged as an urgent problem of the modern world. The term “torture” is widely used in international agreements and conventions. However, even in the 20st century the definition of torture was ambiguous and vague. Consequently, it causes numerous obstacles that prevent and impose an absolute ban on torture techniques. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, no one should be subjected to torture or inhuman treatment. Furthermore, the Geneva Convention signed in 1949 protects soldiers and other civilians from cruel punishment and torture.
Having defined the concept of torture and having analyzed various data concerning legitimacy and amorality of torture, I would like to stress that torture is unacceptable for numerous reasons.

First of all, torture is illegal as there are various conventions in America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa that confirm that torture should be not only prevented, but banned and punished as well. Secondly, torture as an interrogation method does not work. It is impossible to know beforehand if torture will make a terrorist or any other felon confess. Furthermore, torture and similar types of abuses should be rejected as they are absolute oppositions to the entire phenomenon of human rights and dignity.

Moreover, no one can be devoid of basic human rights because human’s rights are the so-called “limits” beyond which no government can interfere. Finally, I am convinced of the fact that no one, even a terrorist, can be deprived of a right to a fair and regular trail instead of torture.

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