By Jonathan M. Gitlin
The subject of torture has been in the news a lot lately, what with extraordinary rendition, secret prisons in Poland, detainee abuse, Iraqi torture facilities, and the fight between the US Congress and the White House over just what you can and can't do to a prisoner. Everyone is pretty much on board with the idea that causing physical pain, a la the TV show 24, is verboten. But in this brave new world, the techniques being employed are more sophisticated than such trusty old standbys like beating the soles of the feet or inserting and then breaking glass catheters.
Practices that have evolved from the men who stare at goats now aim to break down subjects through psychological means that leave no visible scars, and as a result they are far more palatable with the general public. Sleep deprivation, stress positions, sensory deprivation and the like are dismissed by pundits and defense lawyers as nothing like torture.
But the aftereffects of such treatment are at least as damaging to those on the receiving end, such as having teeth pulled out, being burned, or being electrocuted. Those are the findings of a new report in the Archives of General Psychiatry. The study, carried out by Dr. Metin Basoglu and colleagues from King's College London and Clinical Hospital Zvezdara, Belgrade, Serbia, involved interviewing 279 torture survivors from the former Yugoslavia. Their experiences were cataloged, and they rated each event on a scale of zero to four for distress and for loss of control, and whether or not they suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The researchers identified seven categories of torture: "sexual torture; physical torture; psychological manipulations, such as threats of rape or witnessing the torture of others; humiliating treatment, including mockery and verbal abuse; exposure to forced stress positions, such as bondage with rope or other restrictions of movement; loud music, cold showers and other sensory discomforts; and deprivation of food, water or other basic needs." Physical torture rated between 3.2 and 3.8, and this figure was matched by 16 other practices, such as sham executions, rape, threat of rape, isolation and fondling of genitals. There was no lesser incidence of PTSD in those who had not been physically tortured. Dr Basoglu concludes that
the psychological practices which are in vogue right now " do not seem to be substantially different from physical torture in terms of the extent of mental suffering they cause, the underlying mechanisms of traumatic stress, and their long-term traumatic effects."---------------------------------
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