Torture considered

Is the incarceration of prisoners in itself a form of torture?

It could be argued that while the State does have the legal right to deprive an individual of their liberty for wrongdoing, subject to meeting the requirements of the judicial process, it certainly does not have the right to ignore The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which is commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture.

This is an international human rights treaty, under the review of the United Nations that aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world. 

This also includes the treatment of prisoners, even the most violent of those within the prison system. The Convention requires member countries, of which Australia is one, to take effective measures to prevent torture in any state under their jurisdiction. 

It also forbids states to transport people to any country where there is a reason to believe torture could occur. The case of Julian Paul Assange, an Australian editor, publisher, and activist who founded WikiLeaks in 2006, is a classic example. WikiLeaks came to international attention in 2010 when it published a series of leaks provided by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who has been released after serving seven years of a thirty five year sentence when her sentence was commuted by then President Obama in 2017.

Torture is defined as the action or practice of inflicting severe pain or suffering on someone as a punishment; to hurt a person or animal deliberately and cruelly; make someone feel extremely worried or upset; to torment or purposefully put someone through intense pain or agony, or in order to force them to do or say something.

Wikipedia lists almost 100 forms of physical torture. Some have both a physical and psychological element, therefore it’s important to note that torture isn’t just physical. It also includes psychological torture or mental torture, which is defined as a type of torture that relies primarily on psychological effects.

Examples of psychological torture listed in Wikipedia and on the internet range from being subjected to long periods of interrogation, blackmailing, exploitation of phobias; forced nuditymusic torturepharmacological torturesensory deprivationsensory overloadsleep deprivationsolitary confinement/isolation, threat of permanent or severe disfigurementwaterboarding and white room torture.

Many methods of psychological torture attempt to destroy the subject’s normal self-image by removing them from any kind of control over their environment by many means including isolation, monopolising of perception, creating a state of learned helplessness, psychological regression and depersonalization. 

Other techniques include humiliation such as head shaving and strip searching, exhausting by sleep deprivation, hooding and other forms of sensory deprivation. While psychological torture may not leave any lasting physical damage, indeed, this is often one of the motivations for using psychological rather than physical torture, it can result in similar levels of permanent mental damage to its victims. 

This protection against torture is afforded to all members of the community, including those imprisoned, awaiting trial, juvenile detention, those undergoing a prison sentence and the mentally ill. It also includes the most vulnerable members of our society; the very young and the aged, those in state run institutions including orphanages and those in aged care facilities, especially those suffering from dementia.

Justice Action is concerned that we immediately move to eliminate the worst of these practices from within the Australian prison system, especially the imprisonment of children as young as ten, hooding, sensory deprivation, solitary confinement/isolation and that we respect the human rights of those innocent Australian citizens, the children of refugees born in custody.

Peter Hehir

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