Immersion in sewage, ripping out fingernails, sleep deprivation, cigarette burns and beatings with electric prods - these are some of the torture methods used by China's police and prison officers to extract confessions and maintain discipline, a United Nations investigation has found.
Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, said yesterday that abuse of suspects and prisoners remained widespread in China. Treatment was far worse than international norms, despite recent signs of improvement.
Mr Nowak's investigation was the first ever permitted by China and, as such, represents a breakthrough in human rights. Despite this, he said he had been obstructed by security officials, who intimidated some victims and their relatives or prevented them from seeing him.
However, he was able to visit prisons, detention centres and "re-education" labour camps in Beijing and the troubled regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as interviewing academics, justice officials and detainees. Among the prisoners, Mr Nowak said he observed a "palpable level of fear and self-censorship", which he had not seen in missions to other countries.
Human rights groups say brutality and degradation are common in Chinese prisons, where many of the victims are from the Tibetan and Uighur ethnic minorities, political dissidents, followers of the banned Falun Gong sect and members of underground churches.
Although China outlawed torture in 1996, its definition of illegal acts - those leaving physical marks - is so narrow that interrogators can employ a wide range of methods contravening UN standards. Suspects are manacled in contorted positions, deprived of sleep and subjected to psychological torture. Some techniques have been given names, such as "reversing an aeroplane", where a victim must remain standing, bent double, with arms splayed upwards and backwards.
Faced with suicide bombings, claims of Iraqi death squads, and kidnappings, the Pentagon has come up with an innovative solution to solving the problems in Iraq: buying good news. Using defence contractors or intermediaries posing as freelance reporters, the military has been paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by a military propaganda unit lauding the US mission.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the articles are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers where they are often presented as unbiased accounts by independent journalists. Records obtained by the newspaper indicate the US has paid to publish dozens of articles since the operation began this year, with headlines such as "Iraqis insist on living despite terrorism" and "more money goes to Iraq's development".
One military official told the LA Times the military has also bought an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, both used to channel pro-American messages. The propaganda offensive is said to have caused unease among some senior military officials at the Pentagon and in Iraq, especially when the US is promising to promote democratic principles.
Vice-president Dick Cheney's burden on the Bush administration grew heavier yesterday after a former senior US state department official said he could be guilty of a war crime over the abuse of prisoners.
Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, singled out Mr Cheney in a wide-ranging political assault on the BBC's Today programme.
Mr Wilkerson said that in an internal administration debate over whether to abide by the Geneva conventions in the treatment of detainees, Mr Cheney led the argument "that essentially wanted to do away with all restrictions".
Asked whether the vice-president was guilty of a war crime, Mr Wilkerson replied: "Well, that's an interesting question - it was certainly a domestic crime to advocate terror and I would suspect that it is ... an international crime as well." In the context of other remarks it appeared he was using the word "terror" to apply to the systematic abuse of prisoners.
The Washington Post last month called Mr Cheney the "vice-president for torture" for his demand that the CIA be exempted from a ban on "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of detainees.
Mr Wilkerson, a former army colonel, also said he had seen increasing evidence that the White House had manipulated pre-war intelligence on Iraq to make its case for the invasion. He said: "You begin to wonder was this intelligence spun? Was it politicised? Was it cherry-picked? Did, in fact, the American people get fooled? I am beginning to have my concerns."
Mr Cheney has been under fire for his role in assembling evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Mr Wilkerson told the Associated Press that the vice-president must have sincerely believed Iraq could be a spawning ground for terrorism because "otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard".
Such charges have kept the Bush administration on the defensive for several months. Mr Bush yesterday repeated his earlier assertion that the US "does not torture and that's important for people around the world to realise".
Gordon Brown's efforts to mend the Labour government's relationship with big business backfired spectacularly yesterday when the centrepiece of his proposals to cut red tape ran into a chorus of criticism from an unlikely alliance of business leaders, City investors, trade unions and green activists.
Addressing yesterday's meeting of business leaders at the annual CBI conference, the chancellor pledged to strike out plans to implement the so-called operating and financial review (OFR) - a requirement on stock market-listed companies to provide much more information to the public about the impact of their businesses on the environment and society at large.
The OFR was intended to provide a written account of how a company was being run - including corporate governance, social values and ethical policies - to complement the financial numbers contained in the annual report.
The decision to scrap the OFR had been held up as a demonstration of Labour's determination to tackle the regulatory burden facing British business and was clearly intended to sooth increasingly strained relations between the government and the corporate sector.
Instead, organisations as diverse as the Association of British Insurers, which represents big City shareholders, the Institute of Directors, the TUC, and Friends of the Earth reacted with fury, accusing the government of abandoning a central and widely supported plank of corporate reform.
While the CBI itself welcomed the move as a clear sign of the government's understanding of the burdens facing British businesses as they struggle to implement a range of European-inspired legislation, other business lobbies condemned it.
The IoD said it demonstrated "a cavalier and ill-thought-through approach to regulation and its impact".
The Association of British Insurers, whose members control shares worth around a quarter of the stock market, saw the U-turn as "peculiar" given that the government had been trying to promote shareholder activism and the notion of stakeholders.
Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said: "This early Christmas present for the CBI leaves the government's approach to corporate governance looking confused at best."
Political correctness is usually merely infuriating. When right-on councillors ban the word Christmas, we can simply tell them not to be such wallies. Or ignore them. It's a different matter when the PC prats interfere with the rule of law. We've captured two Iraqis strongly suspected of murdering brave British soldiers Simon Cullingworth and Luke Allsopp. Our top brass aren't allowed to turn them over for trial because they could face execution under Iraq's justice system. And that would infringe - you guessed it - their human rights. The hell with that. The powers that be were quick enough to put OUR boys on trial when they were suspected - wrongly - of killing an Iraqi. The lawyers must be told to mind their own business. The Iraqis must be handed over. There's plenty of time to build a gallows big enough for them AND Saddam.