Incommunicado detention and torture in Spain, Part III: 'Five days is enough’: the concept of torturing environments


  • Lilla Hárdi, Editor IRCT
  • Pau Pérez-Sales SiR[a] Centre, GAC Community Action Group and Hospital La Paz, Spain
  • Miguel Angel Navarro-Lashayas Human Rights Section, Spanish Association of Neuropsychiatry (AEN)
  • Angeles Plaza GAC - Community Action Group, Resource Centre on Mental Health and Human Rights, Spain
  • Benito Morentin ARGITUZ - Human Rights Association and Section of Forensic Pathology, Basque Institute of Legal Medicine, Spain
  • Oihana Barrios Salinas Jaiki-Hadi Prevention and Assistance Association



torture, torturing environments, incommunicado detention, psychological torture, interrogation procedures, deception, Istanbul Protocol, manipulation


Background: Torture is changing in western societies, evolving from pain-producing torture to more subtle mixed psychological methods that are harder to detect. Despite this, there is not an adequate understanding of the complexities of contemporary psychological techniques used in coercive interrogation and torture.

Methods: The interrogation and torture techniques used on 45 detainees held in short-term incommunicado detention in Spain during the period 1980-2012 were analyzed. The list of torture categories set out in the Istanbul Protocol (IP) were assessed quantitatively. Software-aided qualitative analysis of the testimonies was conducted, using both inferential and deductive approaches to deduce a classification of torture techniques from the point of view of the survivor.

Findings: The most frequent methods according to the IP categories used against detainees were isolation and manipulation of environment (100%), humiliation (93%), psychological techniques to break down the individual (91%), threats (89%) and forced positions and physical exercises until extenuation (80%). Additionally, with a frequency of between 51 and 70%, mild but constant blows, being forced to witness the torture of others, hooding (mainly dry asphyxia) and unacceptable undue conditions of detention were also frequent. Sexual torture was also widespread with sexual violence (42%), forced nudity (38%) and rape (7%). Qualitative analysis showed that most detainees were submitted to coercive interrogation using a wide array of deceptive techniques. This is often a central part of the torturing process, frequently used in conjunction with many other methods. It was found that giving false or misleading information or making false accusations was most frequently used, followed by maximization of responsibility or facts and giving false information regarding relatives or friends. Different patterns of harsh interrogation, ill-treatment and torture are described that appear to have been tailored to the profile of Basque detainees.

Interpretation: The study shows the need to improve the conceptualization of psychological torture suggested by the IP. Key to this view is the idea that we must not concern ourselves with 'torture methods' but with Torturing Environments. The concept of Torturing Environments is defined and proposed as a focus for future study.


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How to Cite

Hárdi, L., Pérez-Sales, P., Navarro-Lashayas, M. A., Plaza, A., Morentin, B., & Salinas, O. B. (2018). Incommunicado detention and torture in Spain, Part III: ’Five days is enough’: the concept of torturing environments. Torture Journal, 26(3), 13.