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Restriction on the use of cruel and unusual punishments

Cruel and unusual punishment is a phrase describing punishment that is considered unacceptable due to the suffering, pain or humiliation it inflicts on the person subjected to it. There are generally tests that can serve as a guide to what cruel and unusual punishment is according to various legal textbooks in accordance with the law. These are:

  1. overall acceptance in society,
  2. severity (the punishment fits the crime), and
  3. if the punishment is arbitrary.


Amendment VIII to the U.S. Constitution
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


The Bush Torture Memos, by James Bovard, Freedom Daily, Nov 2006
Examines how the Bush Justice Department and the Pentagon twisted legal interpretations to absolve themselves of charges of torture in dealing with "enemy combatants" in the "war on terror"
President Bush is proposing to medievalize the American legal code by permitting the use of coerced confessions in judicial proceedings ... Rather than a strict interpretation of the law, the Bybee memo was a Torturers' Emancipation Proclamation ... the Justice Department revealed that overzealous interrogators had little or nothing to fear from the law. The memo began by largely redefining torture out of existence. It then explained why even if someone died during torture, the torturer might not be guilty if he felt the torture was necessary to prevent some worse evil.
The Confession Backfired, by Paul Craig Roberts, 17 Mar 2007
Discusses world reaction to the "ridiculous" confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, admitting responsibility for "31 planned and actual attacks", and posits that the U.S. government has virtually nothing on the hundreds of detainees in Gitmo and elsewhere
I remember speaking years ago with Soviet dissident Valdimir Bukovsky about the behavior of Soviet dissidents under torture. He replied that people pressed for names under torture would try to remember the names of war dead and people who had passed away. Those who retained enough of their wits under torture would confess to an unbelievable array of crimes in an effort to alert the public to the falsity of the entire process. That is what Mohammed did. We know he was tortured, because his response to the obligatory question about his treatment during his years of detention is redacted.
Related Topic: Terrorism
Getting Away with Torture, by Sheldon Richman, 17 Dec 2014
Discusses some of the responses to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, declassified in Dec 2014
Feinstein writes this in introducing the ... report on the CIA's post-9/11 use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EIT) ... "... such pressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security." Amen. No excuse for torture is acceptable. Apologists for the CIA, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former CIA Director Michael Hayden, may use all the convoluted arguments they can muster to claim that EITs do not constitute torture. But they cannot change the facts.
Related Topic: Barack Obama
Happy Counterterrorism Day, by Scott Horton, Harper's Magazine, 5 Nov 2007
Recounts the history of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot and proposes three lessons to be learned from it for the present age
Torture was a weakness, not a strength, of the government. In twenty-three years, this would be the accepted wisdom of a society sickened and revolted by the official use of cruelty and of torture. In one hundred and seventy years, a nation would be born committed to suppressing it forever ... or, as it turns out, until the arrival of George W. Bush.
An Independent Judiciary, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay of Edward Coke; first chapter of section 9, "Protecting Liberty"
Coke objected to the king's men trying to influence a judge when neither a defendant nor defense counsel was present for cross-examination. This became an issue in the case of Edmund Peacham, a Puritan minister summoned before the High Commission for criticizing a bishop. As Bacon reported to the king [James I], "Peacham was examined before torture, in torture, between torture, and after torture ... he still persisting in his obstinate and inexcusable denials and former answers." Peacham died in prison.
My Time in the Tower of London, by James Bovard, Freedom Daily, Dec 2006
Relates a visit to the Tower of London and then compares the torture of centuries past in the Tower, as described in particular in Shakespeare's Richard III, with the 2006 legalization of similar practices in the United States
In the yard of the Tower castle was a ... sign engraved, "Torture at the Tower." Visitors could ... hear about the long history of atrocities — of the thumbscrews and boots used during the 1300s, to more advanced methods used in following centuries. The Tower had a fearsome reputation in large part because of the unmitigated brutality that was inflicted in the name of the state ... The American version of kingly justice does not involve beheadings ... But the reality is not much better ... People have been condemned to indefinite confinement — brutally interrogated — sometimes killed — all on the scantiest of evidence.
Obama Still Does a Good Imitation of Bush, by Sheldon Richman, 22 Oct 2014
Considers President Obama's continuance of the torture policies of his predecessor, in spite of having supported legislation as a Senator that confirmed U.S. obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture
"Disturbingly," [Jeffrey] Kaye continued,
the latest version of the AFM [U.S. Army Field Manual] mimicked the Bush administration in separating out "war on terror" prisoners as not subject to the same protections and rights as regular prisoners of war. Military authorities then added an appendix ... that included techniques that could only be used on such "detainees" ...
... Appendix M [propounds a] "technique" called "Separation", human rights and legal group have recognized that [it] includes numerous abusive techniques, including use of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation.
Related Topic: Barack Obama
Outsourcing Torture, by Sheldon Richman, 29 Sep 2006
Discusses the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian and Syrian citizen sent by the Bush administration to Syria for interrogation and torture, due to erroneous information from Canadian law enforcement that he had (unproven) terrorist ties
If you want to see the bare essence of the Bush administration, behold its policy of "rendition." The innocuous-sounding word signifies a policy under which American officials send terrorist suspects — detainees never convicted of crimes — to countries where they will be tortured, keeping the U.S. government's hands clean of the monstrous treatment. Can anyone with a sense of justice or humane bone in his body defend such a shameful policy? ... "Mr. Arar spent 10 months in the custody of Syrian interrogators who beat him repeatedly with a heavy metal cable and held him in a dank cell scarcely larger than a coffin ..."
Related Topics: George W. Bush, Canada, Syria
The Pentagon's Power to Arrest, Torture, and Execute Americans, by Jacob G. Hornberger, 28 Feb 2007
Discusses the power to "arrest, torture, and execute" anyone (Amrican citizen or not) claimed to be an "enemy combatant" by the U.S. president and the military, and the shenanigans in the José Padilla case
Even though a government psychologist disputed Padilla's claim, the case is bringing to public eye what U.S. officials would undoubtedly prefer to keep secret from the American people — a method of "touchless" torture that the CIA and the Pentagon have long been employing involving isolation and sensory deprivation. As Alfred McCoy described in his book A Question of Torture, this particular type of torture technique is specifically intended to cause mental damage to its victims. The CIA learned the technique from the North Korean communists, who subjected American POWs to it during the Korean War.
Punishment and Proportionality, by Murray N. Rothbard, 1982
Chapter 13 of The Ethics of Liberty
The proportionality rule tells us how much punishment a plaintiff may exact from a convicted wrongdoer, and no more; it imposes the maximum limit on punishment that may be inflicted before the punisher himself becomes a criminal aggressor. Thus, it should be quite clear that, under libertarian law, capital punishment would have to be confined strictly to the crime of murder.
Shssh! Don't Tell Americans How We Treat "Enemy Combatants", by Jacob G. Hornberger, 21 Mar 2007
Comments on the cases of José Padilla, John Walker Lindh and other accused terrorists, and efforts by U.S. officials to prevent them from disclosing the treatment they received under military or CIA custody
Not surprisingly, federal officials now want to keep Americans from learning the full extent of the federal government's post-9/11 power over them. That's why they used their plea bargain with John Walker Lindh ... to prohibit him from revealing what they did to him while he was in pre-trial military custody. That's why they're fighting fiercely in the Padilla case ... That's why they're claiming "national security" to prevent accused terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other CIA prisoners from describing the waterboarding and other "alternative" forms of interrogation to which they have been subjected.
Why Did They Torture Jose Padilla?, by John Grant, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 12 Dec 2006
Examines the Jose Padilla case in view of Alfred McCoy's A Question of Torture
Why did the administration decide to dishonor the Constitution and do this to a U.S. citizen arrested on American soil? Clearly, it hoped to ferret out leads to more arrests. ... The Padilla case is about the psychological breakdown of a single man, but it should send a shudder down the spine of every freedom-loving American.

Cartoons and Comic Strips

It helps us pass a lie detector ..., by Wiley Miller, Non Sequitur, 26 Oct 2007


The CIA's Detention, Interrogation, and Rendition Program, by Joanne Mariner, 3 Jun 2007
Speech given at the Future of Freedom Foundation's 2007 conference "Restoring the Republic: Foreign Policy and Civil Liberties"

Jesse Ventura On Larry King Live Part 1 Of 2 May.11, 2009, by Jesse Ventura, 11 May 2009
Among other things, Ventura discusses waterboarding and torture, including his own Navy Seal training experience with it

Mancow Waterboard, by Mancow Muller, 22 May 2009
Mancow is waterboarded and says it is "absolutely torture", "horrific"

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Cruel and unusual punishment" as of 12 Nov 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.