Psychological torture

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Psychological torture is a type of torture that relies primarily on psychological effects, and only secondarily on any physical harm inflicted. Although not all psychological torture involves the use of physical violence, there is a continuum between psychological torture and physical torture. The two are often used in conjunction with one another, and often overlap in practice, with the fear and pain induced by physical torture often resulting in long-term psychological effects, and many forms of psychological torture involving some form of pain or coercion.

Many forms of psychological torture methods attempt to destroy the subject's normal self-image by removing them from any kind of control over their environment, creating a state of learned helplessness, psychological regression and depersonalization. Other techniques include forced nudity and head shaving, sleep deprivation, hooding and other forms of sensory deprivation and forcing the subject to adopt stress positions.

A strictly fear-inducing method is the mock execution. Various threats operate on the same fear-inducing principle.

Another method is indirect torture, in which a victim is forced to witness the torture of another person, often a loved one. This preys on the victim's affection for and loyalty to a partner, relative, friend, comrade-in-arms et cetera, whose real pain induces vicarious suffering in the targeted psychological victim, who is thus loaded with guilt but spared physical harm that might affect his or her ability to comply.

While psychological torture may not leave any lasting physical damage—indeed, this is often one of the motivations for using psychological rather than physical torture—it can result in similar levels of permanent mental damage to its victims.[1]

It has been alleged that some psychological torture methods may have been devised by, or in conjunction with, doctors and psychologists.[2]

The United States has been accused of making extensive use of psychological torture techniques at Guantanamo Bay and other sites subsequent to the 9/11 attacks.[3][4][5] Many other countries have been accused of using psychological torture, including Iran.[6] In 1976 the European Commission of Human Rights found the British government guilty of using psychological torture on IRA political detainees in Northern Ireland, while in 1978 the European Court of Human Rights found that the treatment of political internees constituted "inhuman and degrading treatment" rather than torture.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roxanne Khamsi (5 March 2007). "Psychological torture 'as bad as physical torture'". New Scientist. 
  2. ^ "Psychological torture: a CIA history". Mind Hacks. February 11, 2008. 
  3. ^ John Hickman. 2013. Selling Guantanamo: Exploding the Propaganda Surrounding America's Most Notorious Military Prison. University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0813044552 pp. 180-181.
  4. ^ Naomi Klein (23 February 2007). "The US psychological torture system is finally on trial". The Guardian. 
  5. ^ Alfred W. McCoy (June 11, 2009). "The CIA's secret history of psychological torture". 
  6. ^ "NCRI Women's Committee calls for release of Taraneh Mousavi". Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. 15 July 2009. 
  7. ^ "A Chronology of the Conflict". CAIN Web Service. 2013-03-21.