Torture refers to the intentional inflection of pain, either physical or psychological, on a victim. Torture has been used by countless occupation forces and despotic regimes, often against political dissidents (or suspected dissidents). Torture can also be carried out by non-state actors (like organised criminals, domestic abusers…). Torture is a crime, both when individuals do it and when states and institutions do.



  • Beatings: Pretty obvious, I guess. Sometimes blunt weapons are used, other times just fists and feet.
  • Burns: For example, some police forces have been known to restrain victims then use cigarette lighters to give them painful burns (especially on people’s feet, or their genitals).
  • Electric torture: Where pain is inflicted on victims by means of electric shocks. Certain regimes have liked this one because it’s a form of “invisible” torture, as in you can do it without leaving external marks.
  • Inflicting injury: For example, breaking people’s fingers (or entire limbs) one at a time, or ripping out their fingernails or toenails. This tends to be used more where the victim is intended for execution anyway, or at least where the regime doesn’t care if they’re left permanently crippled at the end.
  • Rape: I feel like this one is pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes rape is used as a weapon of torture in and of itself, and sometimes it’s used as a prelude to other forms of torture (e.g. under Pinochet’s dictatorship, it would be used to “soften up” a victim for electric torture).
  • Stress positions: Basically, making a prisoner stand in an uncomfortable position for a really long time, as the discomfort grows and grows over time into serious agony. Often prisoners would be punished with beatings etc. if they try shifting out of the uncomfortable position. Regimes also like this as an “invisible” form of torture.


  • Mock executions: Or generally just putting victims through the terror of believing they’re about to die (or are actively being killed!), when they’re not.
    • “Waterboarding”, a technique that achieved notoriety during the George W. Bush era, would be an example of this (even though obviously it’s physical too). Victims would have cloth or something wrapped around their heads and water poured over it, which inflicted the sensation of drowning.
  • Sensory deprivation: For example, a hood might be fixed over a victim’s head to deprive them of their sense of sight. Or some technique might be used to ensure victims can’t hear. Or both.
  • Sleep deprivation: People go crazy without enough sleep. Strategies used to ensure victims don’t sleep would include obnoxiously loud noise being played, constant interruptions, etc. Relatedly, having lights stay on 24/7 so victims don’t know when it’s day or night.
  • Threats or lies about violence being carried out against victim’s loved ones: A widespread example would be victims being threatened with their sisters, mothers or daughters being raped. Alternatively people might be lied to about their loved ones being killed. Sometimes torturers even manufacture fake evidence that these events really did occur.


  • The Franco dictatorship used torture widely against dissidents in Spain. This included, at the very least, beatings and psychological torture (e.g. making victims believe that they’re about to die, when they’re not).
  • Torture was used regularly by European colonisers to try to keep a lid on resistance against their rule. There are particularly a lot of accounts of how European powers used torture in the final years of colonial rule, as they desperately tried to forestall the wave of decolonisation that was coming. For example:
    • The British used torture in Kenya as they fought the Mau Mau rebellion.
    • The French infamously used torture to try to suppress the Algerian struggle for independence. (There’s a famous film, La bataille d’Algiers (1966), which achieved notoriety for its depiction of the brutality French forces inflicted on Algerians.)
  • Britain used torture against suspected Irish nationalists during the Troubles (see one article about this(external link)). In 1971, 14 Northern Irish men, apparently known as the “hooded men”, were subjected to five torture techniques that “interrogators” later used at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib: stress positions, hooding, white noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink. The British also bundled some of the hooded men into a helicopter, made them believe they were high up off the ground, and threw them out, when in fact they were only a few feet off the ground. In 1978, in a case brought by the Irish government, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the men’s treatment had been “inhumane” but not torture. The British police began an investigation decades later but dropped it in 2014; the UK Supreme Court then found in 2021 that the men’s treatment had been torture and that the cops’ decision to drop their investigation was “irrational”.
  • Many of the Latin American dictatorships working together through Operation Condor are notorious for how much they tortured (and killed) left-wing dissidents. As well as the traditional horribleness like rape, beatings, and mock executions, they also made extensive use of electric torture, inventing new equipment and sharing their designs and practices between each other. (Skill-sharing!) Some of the countries that suffered under this oppression are Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Peru. (Then there were other Latin American countries that weren’t part of Operation Condor, but also tortured dissidents, like Mexico during its “Dirty War” and El Salvador).
  • Torture (known euphemistically by the Americans as “enhanced interrogation”) was used widely during the War on Terror, both to try to coerce information out of prisoners, as well as general punishment/dehumanisation of the occupied. These torture facilities weren’t only located in Iraq and Afghanistan themselves, but the US had a worldwide network of facilities at their disposal, including in countries like Egypt and Poland, that they could fly prisoners to at a whim. These facilities were not directly under the Americans’ control (which was how they liked it, because they could pretend they didn’t know what happened there), but they did as the US told them. The US also had facilities that they did directly control abroad, including Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
  • Israel uses torture in its “interrogations” of Palestinians. Some of Israeli torturers’ favourite techniques include stress positions, beatings, and threatening violence (especially sexual violence) against prisoners’ loved ones.
  • Russia is known to use beatings, rape and electric torture on political prisoners, including to coerce them into false confessions. See also: treatment of dissidents in Russia
  • China is alleged to use torture (including psychological torture, electric torture and rape) against victims of its repression in Xinjiang.