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Temperature Manipulation

Temperature manipulation typically involves prolonged periods of exposure to extreme heat or to extreme cold, for example, holding detainees in cells that are deliberately too hot or too cold, forcing detainees to strip down to their underwear in a frigid cell or to stand in cold water, and dousing victims with freezing water.

Exposing a detainee to the cold can have serious health consequences even if the environmental temperature is well above freezing. The body is highly regulated to maintain core body temperature within a narrow range. Maintenance of this core temperature is essential to human survival. Hypothermia can have a number of adverse physical effects. Even moderate cold exposure can lead to significant shifts from the peripheral circulation to the body core, slowing heart function (including arrhythmias, ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest). If the body temperature drops below 90˚F, there may be cognitive effects including amnesia. If the body temperature drops below 86˚F, major organs can fail and death can occur.

In addition to immediate effects, hypothermia can result in prolonged adverse health consequences. The neurologic effects of hypothermia include mental slowing, diminished reflexes and eventually flaccid muscle tone. With exposure to temperatures below 32˚C (89.6˚F) patients develop amnesia and below 31˚C (87.8˚F) there may be loss of consciousness. Exposure to heat can result in elevations of core body temperature, particularly when access to water is limited. Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that can occur when the core temperature rises above 40˚ C (104˚ F). Heat stroke is characterized as predominant central nervous system dysfunction resulting in delirium, convulsions and coma. Even with aggressive and appropriate treatment, heat stroke is often fatal.

The UN Committee against Torture has found that exposure to extreme temperatures, even in the absence of other forms of abusive interrogation or detention techniques, constitutes both torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.[1] The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has similarly determined that depriving detainees of clothing and exposing them to extremes of heat or cold constitute torture and ill-treatment. [2]

Illustration of temperature manipulation. (Courtesy of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey)

[1]Broken Laws, Broken Lives pp. 103.

[2] Broken Laws, Broken Lives pp. 103.