The ‘third degree’ is used in this report to mean the employment of methods which inflict suffering, physical or mental, upon a person in order to obtain information about a crime. the person subjected so such treatment would usually be suspected of having committed or participated in the crime, but sometimes he might be only a possible witness thereof. The information sought may be a full confession, or it may be a statement desired for the purpose of supplying some of the elements of guilt or of giving clues which will lead to the discovery of objective evidence or the arrest of other persons. Those who inflict the third degree are ordinarily law-enforcing officials–police, detectives, sheriffs, or prosecutors.
Wickersham Commission, Lawlessness in Law Enforcement (1931), pg. 19
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 5, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
UN Convention against Torture
For the purposes of this Convention, the term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Article 1, UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984)
In his study Torture and Democracy Darius Rejali defined bagging as follows:
Police sometimes slip the prisoner’s head into a cheap plastic bag, tie the bottom, and then remove it before the prisoner asphyxiates. American police called this technique “bagging.” (Torture and Democracy, p. 341).
Rejali went on to note that Chicago police used bagging for two decades between 1971 and 1992 (Torture and Democracy, p. 341).
According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary the term means to deprive someone, especially a prisoner, of communication with anyone. The Wickerham Commission report Lawlessness in Law Enforcement (1931) quoted a subcommittee’s report that described the practice as holding someone in custody, often without being charged, for a period from a day to a week, or even (in some cases) a month. During that period, the person was only allowed to communicate with “the police or those who they chose to admit.” The authors of the subcommittee report equated the practice with kidnapping (pg. 47).