Effects of Psychological Torture

The Effects of Psychological Torture

By Daniel Kramer ’11 - June 2010

Many interrogation techniques employed at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere were specifically designed to exploit psychological weaknesses of detainees.  Rather than “break” the body, these techniques could “break” the minds of detainees or induce their cooperation with interrogators, while leaving no physical marks.

The science of psychology cannot determine whether the “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed against detainees in U.S. custody constitute torture as a matter of law.  But the science unequivocally demonstrates that deliberate assaults on the minds of detainees can be even more destructive to their health and psyche than physical assaults.

This paper provides a brief overview of the development of enhanced interrogation techniques and surveys the scientific literature to correct some persistent misconceptions about torture.  It explains how psychological torture operates, its effects on the human mind, and why some of these harms are more damaging than physical torture.

Please consult the paper’s bibliography for further information on this topic.

Download full paper (pdf).