Since World War II , psychological torture techniques have been used to break enemy morale , gather information, and manipulate. At the same time, related knowledge has also been used to manipulate Allied soldiers and mold them to the demands of the respective country.
In this article we are going to discover what psychological torture is, its most used techniques and what is the origin of these macabre practices that continue to this day, more in force than ever.
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What is psychological torture?
As its name suggests, it consists of inflicting pain on a person (sometimes a group) in order to obtain something in return against the will of the person who suffers it. In addition, this type of torture is based on scientific studies from areas such as psychology, medicine and neurophysiology.
The objectives are generally two. On the one hand, to obtain information that the captive refuses to grant, because it is compromised for the country he serves. And on the other hand, manage to manipulate the person’s psyche, inoculating him with ideas that are not his own and reaching what is commonly known as “brainwashing”. What is the history of psychological torture
Although physical torture techniques have been used since man discovered that he could achieve things by inflicting pain on others, psychological torture techniques are much more recent.
The experiments carried out by the SS and the Gestapo in the Dachau prison camp are attributed the label of being the first evidence of psychological torture. In them they used mescaline with the aim of controlling the mind and the will of the people.
Later, studies on LSD appeared , which showed that it produced feelings of self-anger and melancholy, at the same time that it got those who ingested it to tell things about their intimate lives.
Later, in the 1950s, thanks to the then new American agency known as the CIA, studies on sensory deprivation appeared. A technique of psychological torture widely used and with two studies.
Another milestone in the origin and history of psychological torture techniques is the KUBART manual (CIA, 1963) , which explained in detail the steps to follow in order to successfully torture and carry out fruitful interrogations. In addition, this manual had very clear and didactic explanations on how to teach third parties to carry out heinous activities.
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Psychological torture techniques: how do they work
Next we are going to see the most used psychological torture techniques, both now and in the past. Of course, all of them are prohibited and violate the rights of human beings, as well as the Geneva treaty. 1. Sensory
deprivation Sensory deprivation is one of the clearest examples of psychological torture. Being this practice a more complex extension of simple isolation, it is also one of the most disturbing.
While the key to isolation lies in preventing a person from having contact with others (thus attacking her morale, mainly), sensory deprivation consists in isolating the person in every way from her. especially the hearingwith earmuffs, vision, with hoods and touch, with special mittens. Effects of sensory deprivation
In the short term it can produce symptoms of relaxation, but in the medium or long term it has been seen to produce anxiety, depression, loss of motor coordination, hypersensitivity to external stimuli, spatial and temporal disorientation, concentration problems and even hallucinations . 2. Sleep deprivation
We have all suffered from a problem sleeping or have spent more time than necessary without sleeping. The sensation is not pleasant at all and worsens our mental abilities (among many other symptoms) considerably.
Different methods have been used for this psychological torture technique, especially in places like Abu Ghraib, Tikrit, Guantanamo and Mosul.
The most common is to project extremely intense light 24 hours a day on the prisoner , which can be constant or intermittent, so that he does not get used to it. Other times very loud and strident music is used.
Another way is (and it is the worst) to put guards who take turns to wake up the prisoner when he has been asleep for a few minutes. This is usually combined with changing the person held in the cell , so that each time he wakes up he is in a different place, thus promoting his disorientation and suffering. sleep deprivation symptoms
This torture is one of the most classic and also one of the most harmful for the person, at levels of orientation and confusion. The main psychological symptoms are: impaired reasoning ability, memory problems, communication skills problems, etc. Practically any cognitive process is seriously affected .
At the physical level, serious symptoms also appear: less ability to withstand physical pain, hypertension and cardiovascular problems. 3. Sexual humiliation
This torture technique has been studied above all by the United States Army with Muslim prisoners , this being especially effective against said population for religious reasons.
The technique consists of stripping the prisoners of their clothes and forcing them to participate in humiliating acts of all kinds and allow themselves to be used in various ways. For example: They are sexually provoked by women , especially during Ramadan or when they are menstruating, they are forced to wear women’s clothing, women’s underwear is put on their heads, they are paraded in public, etc. .
These psychological torture techniques are so effective because sex is a very strong taboo (even more so) in their culture. In addition, when the community finds out that they have gone through these acts, they are rejected when they return to their lands; multiplying even when returning home the suffering. Symptoms of sexual humiliation
The most frequent effects of people who have suffered this type of torture are: cursive flashbacks, depersonalization (a type of dissociative symptom), chronic headaches, eating disorders, digestive problems , suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and nightmares. 4. Threats to relatives
This is almost certainly one of the simplest psychological tortures at a theoretical and intuitive level in terms of psychological and emotional repercussions. The torturer must be able to discover what is the weak point of the tortured . In this way, he will choose his victim.
Threats to relatives who are abroad are usually effective, but without a doubt, the strongest and most devastating cases are those in which the family is held and the relatives are physically and/or psychologically tortured in front of each other. Observant family members often develop serious feelings of guilt.
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Psychological torture vs. physical torture
There are several reasons to explain why the different psychological torture techniques have gained popularity and become popular in armed conflicts.
In the first place, there is the difficulty in proving that one has been tortured. When the torture that is practiced is psychological, it is more difficult to demonstrate because there are no such obvious signs as in physical torture techniques.
The laws, moreover, are more tenuous. Just as with physical torture it is very well defined what is allowed and what is not, psychological torture moves in a field that has not yet been regulated internationally .
Finally, when trying to torture an enemy combatant, he is much more likely to be prepared to endure physical than psychological torture.
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