Mental, Physical Torture Inflict Similar Pain

Bosnian, Serbian survivors found both equally traumatizing, psychologists say

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WEDNESDAY, March 7, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Psychological and physical torture inflict similar degrees of mental distress and traumatic stress, British researchers report.

"Sham executions, witnessing the torture of close ones, threats of rape, fondling of genitals and isolation were associated with at least as much if not more distress than some of the physical torture stressors in terms of associated distress," researchers at King's College, University of London, wrote in the March issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

The researchers interviewed 279 torture survivors from Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, which became embroiled in conflict as the former nation of Yugoslavia broke apart in the 1990s.

On a scale of distress, the torture victims rated psychological torture at about the same high level as physical torture.

The team concluded that aggressive interrogation methods or detention involving deprivation of basic needs, being kept in uncomfortable conditions, hooding, isolation, forced nudity, forced stress positions, threats, humiliating treatment and other psychological abuse inflict as much mental harm as physical torture.

The findings refute claims by the Bush administration in the United States that there's a distinction between physical torture and "other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" that doesn't cause physical pain, the authors said.

The White House has argued that certain non-physical methods of detention and interrogation -- such as blindfolding and hooding, forced nudity, isolation and psychological manipulations -- are not torture and can be used in exceptional circumstances, such as in the war on terror.

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In 2006, the American Psychological Association approved a resolution reaffirming the organization's opposition to all forms of torture and abuse.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, March 5, 2007


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