Last updated on: 6/12/2008 10:41:00 AM PST
What is the definition of torture?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary (accessed Feb. 16, 2007) defined "torture" as:

"1: to cause intense suffering to : TORMENT
2: to punish or coerce by inflicting excruciating pain
3: to twist or wrench out of shape : DISTORT, WARP"

Feb. 16, 2007 - Merriam-Webster's Dictionary 

The United Nations defined torture in its "Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984," published Dec. 10, 1984:

"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."

Dec. 10, 1984 - UN Convention Against Torture (81 KB)  
United Nations (UN) 

The International Criminal Court defined torture in the "Rome statute of the International Criminal Court, 1998," published July 17, 1998:

"Article 7, Paragraph 2(e): 'Torture' means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions."

July 17, 1998 - Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 1998 (449 KB)  

US Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113c, Section 2340 (18 USC 2340), took effect on Jan. 20, 2004, and defined torture as:

"(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;"


Jan. 20, 2004 - 18 USC 2340 (7 KB)  

The "Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991," also known as Public Law Number 102-256 and HR2092, became US law on Mar. 12, 1992. It defined torture as:

"(b) TORTURE- For the purposes of this Act-- (1) the term `torture' means any act, directed against an individual in the offender's custody or physical control, by which severe pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering arising only from or inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions), whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on that individual for such purposes as obtaining from that individual or a third person information or a confession, punishing that individual for an act that individual or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, intimidating or coercing that individual or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind;..."

Mar. 12, 1992 - Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (9 KB)