A detail from the Taxonomy of Torture from the interactive feature Slate: What is Torture?
Name: “Stress positions, like standing”
Description: Posing a detainee in an erect standing position for a period of several hours. No restraints or external devices are used. Variations of this technique include the extension of one's arms outward to the side. In an addendum to his memo approving this technique, Rumsfeld asked, "I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?"
According to one Army intelligence officer with personal knowledge of these practices, soldiers in the field developed harsher variations of the stress technique. In one position reportedly improvised by soldiers in the field, known as a "short shackle," detainees are bound at the wrist and ankle with metal or plastic handcuffs and then doubled over with their wrists bound to their ankles, either while lying on the ground or sitting.
Other stress positions documented by Army investigators include the suspension of detainees from a shackle in the ceiling, with the arms extended, sometimes without their feet touching the ground. This practice bears a striking resemblance to the "strappado" first used in the 13th and 14th century during the Italian Inquisition, in which victims were suspended from the ceiling with a system of ropes and weights to induce pain in a series of five degrees of increasing intensity. Army investigators found that a version of strappado was used on Mullah Habibullah and Dilawar at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.
Physical, Psychological, or Other Effects: In 1956, the CIA commissioned two Cornell Medical Center researchers to study Soviet interrogation techniques, including standing for extended periods of time. They concluded, "The KGB simply made victims stand for eighteen to twenty-four hours—producing 'excruciating pain' as ankles double in size, skin becomes 'tense and intensely painful,' blisters erupt oozing 'watery serum,' heart rates soar, kidneys shut down, and delusions deepen.
In 1999, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled the use of sleep deprivation and stress positions to be forms of torture. Specifically, that court forbade Israeli security agencies from using the "shaback" position, in which a detainee's hands are tied behind the back of a chair in a painful position while he is hooded; and the "frog crouch," in which a detainee is forced to crouch on his toes with his hands bound behind his back for a long period of time.
Locations Used: Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan
Legal Opinion: These tactics violate Geneva's proscriptions against physical abuse and probably against humiliating and degrading treatment. FM 34-52 recognizes this by stating that it is physical torture to force "an individual to stand, sit, or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time."
In 1978, the European Court of Human Rights decided in a case from Northern Ireland that "five techniques" used to interrogate suspected Irish Republican Army members were unlawful. The techinques were "wall-standing" (a stress position); hooding; subjection to noise; sleep deprivation; and deprivation of food and drink. The court held that such tactics were not torture under the European human rights convention but constituted "inhuman and degrading treatment," a standard analogous to the one in the CAT and ICCPR. In light of this decision, international law would likely prohibit the stress positions that the U.S. has used.
via Adam Kotsko.