Even just the mention of the word “torture” can cause many people to squirm – our imaginations provide plenty of shudder-worthy material. Torture can be physical, mental or a harrowing combination, and there are countless ways to torture living creatures. Physical suffering is perhaps the image of torture that most easily comes to mind, but torture often hinges on inflicting psychological trauma or deprivation of basic necessities like food, water or sleep. Because torture is considered a human rights violation and rarely results in accurate information, torture has been internationally banned by the Geneva Convention in 1949, as well as the UN in 1984. 155 countries agreed to the ban enacted by the UN; however, in practice, it is estimated that 81 countries engage in the use of torture, whether they do so secretly or blatantly. This list is comprised of ten of the most horrifying and notorious incidents of torture, whether enacted en masse or individually, within the developed world. Although the nations on this list have legal restrictions on torture and loudly disparage nations that openly engage in torture, the developed world has quite a lot of dirty laundry.
10. Bread Basket, Basra – United Kingdom
In 2005, British soldiers were discovered to have practiced torture on Iraqi prisoners in a camp called Bread Basket. In addition to the powerful shock factor of the torture itself, one of the most unnerving facets of this case was the fact that the perpetrators were exonerated and, in a couple cases, even promoted. Only one perpetrator was punished, and received only a year of jail time. The United Kingdom voiced their distaste of the events at Bread Basket, but the lack of punishment reveals their actual attitudes.
9. The Spanish Civil War – Spain
Recently, it has been unearthed that anarchists in the Spanish Civil War utilized a strange method of torture – modern art. As many unwilling museum and art gallery patrons can attest, modern art can be a form of torture. Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War designed prison cells that have been classified as “psychotechnic” – the cells were surreal, abstract, oddly angular and littered with random objects. Although this type of torture occurred before the implementation of global bans on terror, it earns a spot on this list because of the sheer oddity of the methods. Unfortunately, the avant-garde remains a torture device for many.
8. The Holocaust – Germany
The Holocaust is the most terrifying and callous violation of human rights and global implementation of torture in human history. Within any criteria, the Holocaust should be number one on this list. However, like the torture used in the Spanish Civil War, it remains at number 8 because it occurred before the global statutes against torture, largely resulting because of the Holocaust, were employed. The Holocaust was enacted by Germany, a developed nation, and resulted in the deaths of 11 million innocents, 6 million of which were Jews. Those participating in the Holocaust utilized the most horrific methods of torture known to man, including starvation, working people to death and the murder of family members. Unfortunately, it appears that the harrowing events of the Holocaust failed to teach the human race enough to avoid future human rights violations.
7. Rangzieb Ahmed – United Kingdom
The United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service MI6, made famous by James Bond, was accused of perpetuating torture in 2011. One of the most poignant details of this case was the accusation that Britain “outsourced” torture by shipping Rangzieb Ahmed, a man accused of terrorism, to Pakistan and there, interrogating him via torture. The results of this case were morally ambiguous: authorities and judges claimed that torture is wrong and evidence obtained from it may not be used in court, but that information stemming from torture passively received, may be used for government intelligence. Perhaps it’s time the developed world took a stronger stance on torture, a basic human rights issue.
6. The Stanford Prison Experiment – USA
Although a government didn’t enact the notorious Stanford Prison Experiment, it’s one of the most famous examples of the depths, to which human beings will stoop in the proper conditions. Psychology professor, Philip Zimbardo designed an experiment in which 12 students became prisoners and 12 students became guards in a mock-prison. The students revealed a frightening acceptance of their roles: the “guards” began utilizing psychological torture against the “prisoners,” and many of the prisoners even turned against their own. The torture became so severe that the experiment, expected to last 14 days, ceased after only six. Although the vast majority of people believe in the strength of their own moral compass, the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment proved that, in the right (or wrong) circumstances, everybody has the capacity for evil.
5. Mohammad Al-Qahtani – USA
Because he was suspected to be a terrorist affiliated with the attacks that took place on 9/11, Mohammad Al-Qahtani, a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, was tortured by the US government. After failed interrogation attempts, the government stooped to the use of torture. Mohammad underwent a whole host of torture techniques, including forced nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation and severe humiliation tactics. However, because Mohammad was tortured, Susan Crawford ultimately dismissed all charges. The use of torture has thus negatively affected everyone involved: Mohammad experienced severe trauma, those who afflicted the torture lost an element of their humanity, and Mohammad may not have received the correct sentence.
4. Khalid Sheikh-Mohammad – USA
Khalid Sheikh-Mohammad has been identified as one of the chief orchestrators of 9/11. The human rights violations practiced by the CIA in the aftermath of 9/11 brought torture to the fore of the global stage. Torture in the form of water-boarding and fear-based tactics was allegedly used on Khalid Sheikh-Mohammad’s young sons, aged 6 and 8, and on Khalid himself. However, as always, the use of torture results in questionable information: because a person undergoing torture will say anything in the hopes of ceasing the mental and physical pain, it has been proven that the use of torture often results in false information. The US government has used the euphemism “enhanced interrogation tactics,” but in reality, they’ve been practicing torture, a human rights violation that shouldn’t be masked or minced with nice words.
3. The Birmingham Six – United Kingdom
After pub bombings in Birmingham that resulted in 21 deaths and 182 injuries, six men given the moniker “the Birmingham Six” were sentenced to life imprisonment. However, after 16 years, their cases were appealed, and their sentences revoked: the torture used to extract information from the six resulted in the discounting of their testimony. The police interrogated the men for up to twelve hours, deprived them of basic necessities, beat the men, and even forced them to participate in a simulated execution. In addition to being exonerated after 16 years, the six were awarded compensation in the form of enormous cash grants, ranging up to nearly $2 million.
2. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani – USA
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is a member of Al-Qaeda who participated in significant terrorist attacks. He played a role in the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in 1998. Ahmed was complicit in this horrific crime resulting in hundreds of deaths; however, much of the evidence against Ahmed was ultimately discounted because it was confessed under torture. The results of his trial raise several questions: the morality of torture, the veracity of statements made while under torture, and Ahmed’s culpability (he claimed that he was a victim of Al-Qaeda) have all been debated. Ahmed initially was charged with 281 counts, but was ultimately found guilty of only one, conspiracy. If Ahmed had not been tortured, the outcome of his trial could have been very different.
1. Abu Ghraib Prison
When they eventually came to light, the events that transpired at the prison of Abu Ghraib from 2003-2004 shocked the world. These events include some of the most horrifying incidents of torture, and photographic evidence remains. US military personnel brutally abused and tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib in a sickening variety of ways: sexual abuse, sodomy, deprivation and eventually, homicide, were all utilized. While several of the perpetrators of these atrocities were tried and sentenced, a disturbing amount of them walked free. The US government’s excusal of torture is a dangerous game: dehumanizing prisoners and justifying sadistic and psychopathic behavior could lead to more widespread violations of basic human rights.