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Definition of Torture Under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340–2340A

Date of Issuance:

This opinion interprets the federal criminal prohibition against torture codified at 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340–2340A. It supersedes in its entirety the August 1, 2002 opinion of this Office entitled Standards of Conduct under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340–2340A.

That statute prohibits conduct “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” This opinion concludes that “severe” pain under the statute is not limited to “excruciating or agonizing” pain or pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death.”

The statute also prohibits certain conduct specifically intended to cause “severe physical suffering” distinct from “severe physical pain.”

Updated July 9, 2014