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The worst scars are in the mind: psychological torture

30-09-2007 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 867, by Hernán Reyes

Torture often includes methods that entail severe psychological distress and profoundly disrupt the senses and personality. This article describes how psychological methods which do not amount to ill-treatment when considered in isolation can amount to torture through their accumulation over time and their integration into the whole torture process.

   

Dr Hernán Reyes,
MD, of the ICRC’s Assistance Division, is a specialist on medical aspects of detention and has visited numerous detention centres around the world. 

 
Abstract 
Torture during interrogation often includes methods that do not physically assault the body or cause actual physical pain – and yet entail severe psychological pain and suffering and profoundly disrupt the senses and personality. Solitary confinement and prolonged sleep deprivation are just two examples of these psychological torture methods. Even psychological methods which do not amount to ill-treatment when considered in isolation, amount to inhuman or degrading treatment or torture, when applied in conjunction with other techniques, cumulatively and/or over a long time. Often they are part and parcel of the whole torture process and constitute a ‘‘background environment’’ of harassment and duress. The ‘‘cumulation over time’’ factor must thus be considered as part of a system of psychological torture.  

   
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