Infliction of bodily and mental pain or suffering to extort evidence or confession. In the 20th century torture is widely (though, in most countries, unofficially) used. The human-rights organization Amnesty International
investigates and publicizes the use of torture on prisoners of conscience.
Torture was legally abolished in England about 1640, but allowed in Scotland until 1708 and in France until 1789.
In the Middle Ages physical torture employed devices such as the rack (to stretch the victim's joints to breaking point), the thumbscrew, the boot (which crushed the foot), heavy weights that crushed the whole body, the iron maiden (cage shaped like a human being with interior spikes to spear the occupant), and so on. While similar methods survive today, electric shocks and sexual assault are also common.
This was developed in both the communist and Western blocs in the 1950s, often using drugs. From the early 1960s a method used in the West replaced isolation by severe sensory deprivation; for example, IRA guerrillas were prevented from seeing by a hood, from feeling by being swathed in a loose-fitting garment, and from hearing by a continuous loud noise at about 85 decibels, while being forced to maintain themselves in a search position against a wall by their fingertips. The European Commission on Human Rights found Britain guilty of torture, although the European Court of Human Rights classed it only as inhuman and degrading treatment.
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