Stress and duress is a term which has been used by the United States to describe interrogation techniques authorised for use by United States Armed Forces upon detainees who are determined to be a threat the United States. These techniques are claimed to cause "inhuman and degrading treatment" but which the Bush administration claims do not cause "suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture".
If they are combatants Prisoners of War then they are covered by the Third Geneva Convention (GCIII) until and unless "their status has been determined by a competent tribunal(GCIII Art 5) to be that of a non-combatant or an unlawful combatant in which case they are covered by Fourth Geneva Convention (GCIV) unless they are "Nationals of a State which is not bound by the Convention are not protected by it. Nationals of a neutral State who find themselves in the territory of a belligerent State, and nationals of a co-belligerent State, shall not be regarded as protected persons while the State of which they are nationals has normal diplomatic representation in the State in whose hands they are."(GCIV Art 4. paragraph 2). But even if they are covered by GCIV the US can waver a detainee's GCIV rights by invoking GCIV Article 5. "is satisfied that an individual protected person is definitely suspected of or engaged in activities hostile to the security of the State, such individual person shall not be entitled to claim such rights and privileges under the present Convention as would, if exercised in the favour of such individual person, be prejudicial to the security of such State."
This means that for many of the detainees being held by the US, they do not have the protection of the Geneva Conventions (GCs). So in many cases the US does not have to report that they are holding a person to the Red Cross because the person is not covered by the GCs and any prohibitions on torture in GCIV are not applicable.
For those held in Iraq it is even more complicated because it depends on whether the person being held is being held in an internal or an international conflict.
Although not binding upon non-participating member states of the Council of Europe, this ruling is a useful indicator of international judicial views on the "stress and duress" methods authorised for use by the US administration.
In 1978 in the European Court of Human Rights(ECHR) trial "Ireland v. the United Kingdom" the judges court published the following in their judgement:
These methods, sometimes termed "disorientation" or "sensory deprivation" techniques, were not used in any cases other than the fourteen so indicated above. It emerges from the Commission's establishment of the facts that the techniques consisted of ...wall-standing; hooding; subjection to noise; deprivation of sleep; deprivation of food and drink.
The Court ruled that neither these five techniques nor the beating of prisoners met the European definition of torture under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court found that these were a lesser offense within the Article 3 (art. 3), the practice of "inhuman and degrading treatment".