Suffering may be said physical or mental, depending whether it refers to a feeling or emotion that is linked primarily to the body or to the mind. Forms of ill treatment during captivity that do not involve physical pain ? such as psychological manipulation, deprivation, humiliation and forced stress positions ? appear to cause as much mental distress and traumatic stress as physical torture.
The report published in the March issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
Metin Basoglu, M.D., Ph.D., King?s College, University of London, and colleagues interviewed 279 survivors of torture from Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Luka in Republica Srpska, Rijeka in Croatia and Belgrade in Serbia between 2000 and 2002. The survivors (average age 44.4, 86.4 percent men) were asked which of 54 war-related stressors and 46 different forms of torture they had experienced. Each participant then rated each event on scales of zero to four for distress (where zero was not at all distressing and four was extremely distressing) and loss of control (where zero was completely in control and four was not at all in control or completely helpless). Then, they reported how distressed or out of control they felt overall during the torture. Clinicians also assessed the survivors for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychiatric conditions.
The authors concluded that aggressive interrogation techniques or detention procedures involving deprivation of basic needs, exposure to adverse environmental conditions, forced stress positions, hooding or blindfolding, isolation, restriction of movement, forced nudity, threats, humiliating treatment and other psychological manipulations do not appear 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. These findings do not support the distinction between torture versus ?other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.?
Although international conventions prohibit both types of acts, ?such a distinction nevertheless reinforces the misconception that cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment causes lesser harm and might therefore be permissible under exceptional circumstances. These findings point to a need for a broader definition of torture based on scientific formulations of traumatic stress and empirical evidence rather than on vague distinctions or labels that are open to endless and inconclusive debate and, most important, potential abuse.?