Torture Laid Bare

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Torture, while internationally sanctioned, is not well-defined. This paper sets out a Minimal English definition of the crime of 'torture' in international law. The four elements of torture are: (1) infliction of severe pain and suffering (2) acting with intent (3) for a purpose (4) by the state. The connection between intention and outcome is considered in the light of presumptions. I then briefly consider the concept of 'lawful sanctions' and the UN Standard Minimum Rules that apply to the treatment of prisoners to establish a baseline against which allegations of torture can be measured. Finally, I argue that current regimes of British benefit sanctions, whereby social welfare payments are stopped, may in some cases constitute torture. This argument considers the effects of sanctions and the discourses and ideologies attached to social welfare claimants.

© 2017. This is an author produced version of a paper published in the Journal of Language and Politics, uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-452
JournalJournal of Language and Politics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2017


  • semantics; benefits sanctions; torture; social welfare; Natural Semantic Metalanguage; law

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