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CIA: Virtually no physical torture in Stalin-era USSR, torturers were punished





The History of the USSR & the Peoples’ Democracies

Chapter 5, Section 6 (C5S6) 


Saed T



A person sitting at a desk writing on a paperDescription automatically generated


American intelligence documents, one after another, corroborate the virtual absence of torture in the USSR. One US intelligence document titled ‘Soviet Interrogation Methods’ was about the Soviet military intelligence as well as the MGB and the MVD. The document stated:

If captured by the MGB or MVD a prisoner is always turned over to the Intelligence Section of the Military District. From there the information would be reported to the Main Intelligence Directorate in Moscow. The prisoner would go to a distribution point located either in the district or nearest to the district where capture has been made. (SOVIET INTERROGATION METHODS, CIA, October 9, 1953, p. 4) (IMG)

Describing the intelligence section of the Soviet Red Army, and in response to the question ‘Can a military translator ever strike prisoner?’, a leading CIA officer reported that physical torture was strictly prohibited. The following excerpt of the US intelligence document reveals this fact:

Can a military translator ever strike prisoner?

The Chief of the Intelligence Section of an Army Group, normally prohibits any physical contact between and interrogators and interrogatees. Threats, on the other hand, may be used if practicable. (SOVIET INTERROGATION METHODS, CIA, October 9, 1953, p. 3) (IMG)

The document went on to describe:

one instance, however, when violence was used during World War II. A German fighter pilot, who was believed to have military information of vital importance, resisted Soviet interrogators for fifteen days. After torture methods had succeeded in breaking his resistance, he was not mistreated any further. [T]his was an exceptional case and … as a rule physical violence would be avoided. (SOVIET INTERROGATION METHODS, CIA, October 9, 1953, p. 3) (IMG)

In the words of another CIA document, not only was the use of physical force by the MGB, the main Soviet intelligence organization, officially prohibited, the beating of the prisoners was also banned:

The use of physical force in the organs of the MGB was officially prohibited, and the beating of prisoners was not permitted. Numerous orders and directives on this subject were sent out by the central organs of the MGB. (SOVIET METHODS OF INTERROGATION, CIA, May 14, 1954, p. 3) (IMG)

In cases where interrogators were responsible for torture, they were punished for doing so, which is why so often, the MGB officers did not dare to strike the prisoners:

Not all interrogators, however, adhered to these restrictions, especially case officers of MGB organs located at the "periphery" (in the provinces), where prisoners sometimes were beaten in order to obtain testimony. This type of activity was considered in the MGB in 1948 and 1949 to be illegal, and operational personnel guilty of the use of force were punished through administrative channels. (SOVIET METHODS OF INTERROGATION, CIA, May 14, 1954, p. 3) (IMG)

In very important cases where it was absolutely known that a prisoner was giving false information, especially in espionage cases, the chief of the section (otdel), with the verbal sanction of the chief of the directorate (upravleniye), assumed responsibility and force was used on the prisoner, i.e., he was unmercifully beaten. This application of force was repeated no more than once with each prisoner, since the MGB was afraid to leave traces of the beatings on the prisoner. Actually, such beatings were rare, since everyone in the MGB knew that these "measures" might result in unpleasantness. For example, if the prisoner brought out in court that he had been beaten and forced to give false evidence wittingly, the chairman of the military tribunal would return the case to the MGB for further investigation. The decision of the military tribunal would include the statements of the prisoner on the beatings. The return of a case for further investigation was considered a to be a serious reflection on the work of the MGB, and the Third Chief Directorate of the MGB might punish those guilty of administering beatings to prisoners. (SOVIET METHODS OF INTERROGATION, CIA, May 14, 1954, p. 3. Bold added.) (IMG)

According to the same CIA document, the Soviet intelligence had solitary confinement, but only for a maximum of 5 days, with the food and water being provided:

The MGB … employed … confinement in small detention cells. In every MGB prison there was a cell of very small dimensions, 1 x 1.5 meters [i.e. larger than a closet], without windows. If, in the opinion of the interrogator, a prisoner was giving false testimony or withholding certain information from the interrogator, the interrogator would write a report to the chief of the directorate saying: “I request the confinement of such-and-such prisoner to the small detention cell. The prisoner has conducted himself in a provocative manner during his interrogation and has given false testimony.” The chief would endorse the report as follows: “I sanction a term of 5 days” "According to law”, the chief could not confine the prisoner to this cell for more than five days. The chief of the prison, on the basis of the endorsed report, would transfer the prisoner to the detention cell, where he would only have room to stand [Saed’s comment: actually, in a room larger than a closet, one can sleep (though uncomfortably) as well; not just stand], and would receive only bread and water

The strategem in this case centered around the fact that the prisoner did not know for how long a period he was to be confined to this small cell. Prior to incarceraation the interrogator would threaten him, saying that he would remain there until he confessed his guilt. “You will rot there,” the interrogator would say, “and if you think it over and decide to tell the truth then let me know through the jailer.” The prisoner would remain the cell without hope, not knowing that his confinement there was strictly limited to five days since his death in the detention cell would render the chief of the prison responsible. The prisoner, of course, would be unable to endure such conditions and therefore would beg to be reinterrogated. If the prisoner were to repeat his original testimony, or give false testimony, he would be returned immediately to the cell to serve the full five-day confinement.

(SOVIET METHODS OF INTERROGATION, CIA, May 14, 1954, p. 4. Bold added.) (IMG)

Five days of solitary confinement however is not torture. This is a well-known fact. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for the United Nations Human Rights, the:

standard of UN rules … defines solitary confinement as "the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact." Solitary confinement may only be imposed in exceptional circumstances, and "prolonged" solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is regarded as a form of torture. (“United States: prolonged solitary confinement amounts to psychological torture, says UN expert”, United Nations Human Rights – Office of the High Commissioner (OHCR), February 28, 2020) (IMG)

In Western countries, by contrast, not only is there solitary confinement, the period of such confinement is several years. In Canada for instance, even as late as 2018, solitary confinements were up to at least two and a half years:

Five years after [the Canadian province of] Ontario vowed to curtail its use of solitary confinement, average inmate stays in segregation cells have grown longer, with one prisoner in Ottawa remaining in isolation for at least 835 days, according to newly released provincial data.

(…). The most glaring figure comes from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, where government spreadsheets indicate a Muslim man with mental-health issues, between the ages of 35 and 39, was housed in solitary for at least 835 days. Little more is known about him. United Nations guidelines recommend 15 days as a limit for segregation placements to prevent lasting mental and physical harm.

(“Length of solitary stays increasing in Ontario prisons, including 835 days for one inmate”, Boston Globe, November 5, 2018) (IMG)

It is a well-known fact that West Germany imposed solitary confinement on many dissident elements. There is no need to mention the Americans who are most notorious in the West for this. These facts are widely known and shed light upon the great contrast between a state controlled by the proletariat and the anti-proletarian states.


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Caption photo credits: Photoshopped version of:

‘NKVD interrogation’ from ‘Soviet Era Pictures’

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