What is Torture?

Legal Definition
Torture (from the Latin tortus, "twisted") is the act of deliberately inflicting physical or psychological pain on an organism in order to fulfill some desire of the torturer or compel some action from the victim. Torture, by definition, is a knowing and intentional act; deeds which unknowingly or negligently inflict pain without a specific intent to do so are not typically considered torture.

Torture has been carried out or sanctioned by individuals, groups, and states throughout history from ancient times to modern day, and forms of torture can vary greatly in duration from only a few minutes to several days or longer. Reasons for torture can include punishment, revenge, political re-education, deterrence, interrogation or coercion of the victim or a third party, or simply the sadistic gratification of those carrying out or observing the torture. The torturer may or may not intend to kill or injure the victim, but sometimes torture is deliberately fatal and can precede a murder or serve as a form of capital punishment. In other cases, the torturer may be indifferent to the condition of the victim. Alternatively, some forms of torture are designed to inflict psychological pain or leave as little physical injury or evidence as possible while achieving the same psychological devastation. Depending on the aim, even a form of torture that is intentionally fatal may be prolonged to allow the victim to suffer as long as possible (such as half-hanging).

Although torture is sanctioned by some states, it is prohibited under international law and the domestic laws of most countries. Although widely illegal and reviled there is an ongoing debate as to what exactly is and is not legally defined to be torture. It is a serious violation of human rights, and is declared to be unacceptable (but not illegal) by Article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols I and II of 8 June 1977 officially agree not to torture captured persons in armed conflicts, whether international or internal. Torture is also prohibited for the signatories of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has been ratified by 158 countries.

National and international legal prohibitions on torture derive from a consensus that torture and similar ill-treatment are immoral, as well as impractical. Despite these international conventions, organizations that monitor abuses of human rights (e.g., Amnesty International, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Freedom from Torture, etc.) report widespread use condoned by states in many regions of the world. Amnesty International estimates that at least 81 world governments currently practice torture, some of them openly. Historically, in those countries where torture was legally supported and officially condoned, wealthy patrons sponsored the creation of extraordinarily ingenious devices and techniques of torture.
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
Torture refers to the infliction of severe pain and suffering, as punishment, as coercion, or for the purposes of obtaining information or a confession. Torture is prohibited by the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has been ratified by 145 states.

As codified in the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, torture is both a war crime and a crime against humanity.
Legal Definition
Punishments. A punishment inflicted in some countries on supposed criminals to induce them to confess their crimes, and to reveal their associates.

2. This absurd and tyrannical practice never was in use in the United States; for no man is bound to accuse himself. An attempt to torture a person accused of crime, in order to extort a confession, is an indictable offence. 2 Tyler, 380. Vide Question.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
In old criminal law. The question; the Infliction of violent bodily pain upon a person, by means of the rack, wheel or other engine, under judicial sanction and superintendence, in connection with the interrogation or examination of the person, as a means of extorting a confession of guilt, or of compelling him to disclose his acoompli-ces.
-- Black's Law Dictionary