13 startling facts from Amnesty’s report on torture around the world

If lives were at risk, if national security was at stake, would you condone using torture to obtain information that could prevent such a disaster?

If you answered "yes," you're not alone.

A global survey conducted for Amnesty International found that 45 percent of respondents in the United States felt torture was sometimes "necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public." 

Amnesty launched its Stop Torture campaign on Tuesday, coinciding with the release of a global survey about torture around the world.

The word is rarely used in an official capacity, but Amnesty finds the practice of torture widespread even in countries where it is illegal. "Rather than respecting the rule of law through zero-tolerance of torture, governments persistently and routinely lie about it to their own people and to the world," the report said.

The CIA used the term “enhanced interrogation methods,” while the German Gestapo used “Verschärfte Vernehmung,” which essentially means the same thing. Both have been called euphemisms for torture.

For clarity’s sake, this is how the United Nations defines torture in its “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

“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.”

If that definition is not visceral enough, Amnesty has documented the different methods of torture it observed around the world. The most common include beatings, electric shocks, isolation, stress positions, water boarding, and asphyxiation.

There have also been reports of victims being burned with cigarettes, deprived of sleep, starved, raped or threatened with rape.

More than 21,000 people in 21 countries participated in the survey conducted for Amnesty. These are the most startling revelations:

44 percent of respondents from 21 countries fear they would risk being tortured in police custody.

That figure is highest in the Americas: 80 percent in Brazil and 64 percent in Mexico fear being tortured in custody. The percentage decreases to 32 percent in the United States and 21 percent in Canada.

“Torture is a fact of life in countries across Asia,” said Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific Director Richard Bennett. “The problem isn’t limited to a few rogue states, but is endemic throughout the region.”

A significant majority of respondents in both India and China (74 percent) thought torture was sometimes necessary, according to the survey. This was the highest percentage among all the countries polled.

In the United States, 45 percent of those surveyed felt that torture was sometimes necessary and acceptable to obtain information. Amnesty points out that no one responsible for the “enhanced interrogation methods” in the United States’ “war on terror” has faced prosecution.

Amnesty found evidence of torture in 79 countries, all of whom were part of the 155 countries that ratified the UN Convention Against Torture.

Police spun a “wheel of torture” in a detention center near Manila, Philippines to decide how to extract information. The wheel was used for fun, with portions marked “3 minute zombies” or “20 seconds Manny Pacman.”

Mauritanian courts decided “confessions” that are extracted under torture or other ill-treatment can still be admitted as evidence, according to Amnesty.

Sudan uses amputation as a method of punishment. Last February, Human Rights Watch cited credible sources saying government doctors had carried out amputations for the courts.

Sri Lanka’s National Human Rights Commission received 86 complaints of torture in the first three months of 2013.

Amnesty highlighted the complicity of European governments in the CIA’s rendition program. This innocuous country house in Poland is believed to be one of the so-called CIA black sites that housed suspected terrorists, who were then allegedly tortured.

In African countries where homosexuality has been declared illegal, people thought to be gay can face torture that includes forced anal examinations. Two men who were arrested for having sex “against the order of nature” in Zambia in May 2013 were subjected to such treatment.

North Korea’s prison camps are notorious for their human rights abuses and inhuman conditions. The UN’s Human Rights Council released a comprehensive report on the country’s abuses this February, including reports of arbitrary detention, torture, executions and enforced disappearances.

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