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."


An Independent Judiciary: Edward Coke, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay
"Coke objected to the king's men trying to influence a judge when neither a defendant nor defense counsel were 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, '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."
Getting Away with Torture, by Sheldon Richman, 17 Dec 2014
Examines some of the responses to the report on the CIA's post-9/11 use of "enhanced interrogation techniques"
"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. Any government unfriendly to the American empire that had used these techniques would have been condemned by the U.S. government as barbaric."
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."
My Time in the Tower of London, by James Bovard, Future of Freedom, Dec 2006
Compares the torture of centuries past in the Tower of London with the 2006 legalization of similar practices in the United States
"... in late September 2006, Congress voted to effectively legalize torture and to pardon all the torturers and torture policymakers. Has the U.S. Capitol building acquired at least an odor of the Tower of London? ... the law that Congress passed will be a cornucopia of barbarity that will be likely to afflict people around the world."
Punishment and Proportionality, by Murray 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 Hornberger, 21 Mar 2007
"Reality is the power to subject American and foreign 'enemy combatants' to extreme isolation and sensory deprivation over long periods of time. ... power to subject 'enemy combatants' to waterboarding and similar forms of 'alternative-interrogation techniques.' ... power to inject substances into 'enemy combatants.'"
The Bush Torture Memos, by James Bovard, Future of Freedom, Nov 2006
Examines how the Bush Justice Department and the Pentagon twisted legal interpretations to absolve themselves of charges of torture
"President Bush is proposing to medievalize the American legal code by permitting the use of coerced confessions in judicial proceedings. ... the Bybee 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
The Pentagon's Power to Arrest, Torture, and Execute Americans, by Jacob Hornberger, 28 Feb 2007
"... 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."
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


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 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"

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.