“Prolonged Mental Harm”

As I noted in my last post, the US Code defines torture as an act that (among other things) is intended to produce “severe physical or mental pain or suffering”, and defines “severe mental pain or suffering” as “prolonged mental harm” resulting from one of several types of act. Naturally, then, the torture memos spend a lot of time arguing that none of the techniques they discuss will actually produce “prolonged mental harm”. (Not a single one! What a surprise!)

When you read these sections, it might help to have this report from Physicians for Human Rights in the back of your mind. PHR tracked down eleven people who had been detained in Iraq and Guantanamo, and assessed their medical and psychiatric condition. They were not detained by the CIA, but many of the techniques used on them were similar. Here are the results of their psychiatric evaluations, from the Report’s Executive Summary:

“With one exception, the former detainees have experienced and continue to experience severe psychological effects of torture and ill-treatment as a result of their detention in US custody. All but one feel utterly hopeless and isolated, and lack the ability to sleep well, work, or engage in normal social relationships with their families. Seven individuals disclosed having contemplated suicide either while in detention or after being released.

Most of the released detainees, to this day, live with severe anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, including intrusive recollections of trauma suffered in detention, hyperarousal (persistent symptoms of increased arousal, e.g., difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance), avoidance and emotional numbing behavior. PHR’s clinicians determined that these symptoms were directly related to the torture and ill-treatment reported having taken place while in US custody, even after taking into account the fact that the released Iraqi former detainees are living in a war-torn environment. Amir explained, “These are the memories that I can never forget. I want to forget, but it is impossible.”

For the four detainees who had experienced symptoms of depression or other mental disorders prior to detention, torture and ill-treatment by the US Personell severely exacerbated these conditions, and in one case it ignited such deep despair and dysfunction as to lead the detainee to repeated suicide attempts while at Guantanamo.”

Just something to keep in mind.

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