When all else fails, check the legal definition. The U.N. Convention on Torture, to which the U.S. is a signatory, defines it thus:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession … when such pain or suffering is inflicted at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

The dictionary definition is the following:

1. a) Infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion.
b) An instrument or a method for inflicting such pain.
2. Excruciating physical or mental pain; agony: the torture of waiting in suspense.
3. Something causing severe pain or anguish.

The Vatican seems to know what it means. Here’s the CIA definition of waterboarding:

The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

Rich Lowry argues that this is not the infliction of severe physical or mental anguish or pain. The Wall Street Journal believes this isn’t “anything close” to torture and today argues that “if practiced properly, it does no lasting physical harm.” That’s the WSJ’s standard for America. Let’s just say it isn’t mine.


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