U.S. Department of State
Initial Report of the United States of America to the UN Committee Against Torture

Submitted by the United States of America to the Committee Against Torture, October 15, 1999

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Articles 1 and 2: Definition and Prohibition

A. Definition of Torture

U.S. Understandings. In order to clarify the meaning of "torture" and to delineate the scope of application of the Convention with the greater precision required under U.S. domestic law, the United States conditioned its ratification upon several understandings related to Article 1. The full text of these understandings is at Annex I. In essence, they provide that:

The intentional infliction of "mental" pain and suffering is appropriately included in the definition of "torture" to reflect the increasing and deplorable use by States of various psychological forms of torture and ill-treatment such as mock executions, sensory deprivations, use of drugs, and confinement to mental hospitals. As all legal systems recognize, however, assessment of mental pain and suffering can be a very subjective undertaking. There was some concern within the U.S. criminal justice community that in this respect the Convention's definition regrettably fell short of the constitutionally required precision for defining criminal offenses. To provide the requisite clarity for purposes of domestic law, the United States therefore conditioned its ratification upon an understanding that, in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from: (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.