Debility, dependency and dread: On the conceptual and evidentiary dimensions of psychological torture
Keywords:torture, human rights, psychological torture, physical torture, pain, interrogation techniques
Background: Psychological torture is deployed to break and obliterate human resistance, spirit and personality, but it is rarely afforded sufficient attention. Deficiencies in conceptualising, documenting and adjudicating non-physical torture mean that it is frequently left undetected and uncontested by the public, media and the courts, bolstering impunity for its perpetrators. A review of the current literature to map conceptual and evidentiary shortcomings from an inter-disciplinary perspective is therefore warranted.
Method: The relevant texts were identified through a systematic full-text search of databases, namely HeinOnline, HUDOC, UNODS and DIGNITY´s Documentation Centre, with the keywords `psychological torture´, `mental pain and suffering´, `severity´, `humiliation´, `interrogation techniques´, and `torture methods´. The identified texts, limited to English-language journal articles, NGO reports, court-cases and UN documents from 1950 to date, were then selected for relevance pertaining to conceptual, evidentiary, technological and ethical critique provided therein.
Results/Discussion: Evidential invisibility, subjectivity of the suffering, and perceived technological control are the primary ways in which psychological torture methods are designed, and how they manage to evade prosecution and consequently be perpetuated. Cognisant of the need for further research, pertinent questions highlighting the need to develop approaches, sharpen standards and use a medical/psychological/legal interdisciplinary approach are suggested.
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