Allen Keller, MD discussed some of the findings of Broken Laws, Broken Lives the day after its release, on Democracy Now! Dr. Keller was one of the clinical evaluators and a co-author for the report.
At one point in the interview, Democracy Now’s Juan Gonzales recounted some of the horrific abuses suffered by two of the detainees examined for Broken Laws, Broken Lives. Regarding the second detainee, Gonzales said:
Yussef, who was captured in Afghanistan, talked about being subjected to electric shock from a generator, feeling, quote, “as if my veins were being pulled out.” So this was really not only borderline examples of torture; this was actual physical torture that was occurring here against some of these men.
Dr. Keller responded:
Absolutely. And it’s important, though, to note, you don’t necessarily have to lay a glove on someone for it to be torture. Sleep deprivation, all of these, quote, “enhanced” interrogation methods have devastating health consequences.
This is an important point, often lost in discussions of US torture policy. PHR’s 2005 report, Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces, goes into more detail about the false distinction between physical and psychological torture.
Psychological torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment can have extremely destructive health consequences for detainees. The effects can include memory impairment, reduced capacity to concentrate, somatic complaints such as headache and back pain, hyperarousal, avoidance, and irritability. Additionally, victims often experience severe depression with vegetative symptoms, nightmares, and “feelings of shame and humiliation” associated with sexual violations, among others.
Although these short- and long-term consequences can be debilitating, the suffering of victims of psychological torture is often disregarded because they do not have physical evidence of the abuse they suffered. The lack of physical signs can make psychological torture seem less significant than physical torture, but the consensus among those who study torture and rehabilitate its victims is that psychological torture can be more painful and cause more severe and long-lasting damage even than the pain inflicted during physical torture. Indeed, as the UN Special Rapporteur on torture pointed out:
Often a distinction is made between physical and mental torture. This distinction, however, seems to have more relevance for the means by which torture is practised than for its character. Almost invariably the effect of torture, by whatever means it may have been practised, is physical and psychological. Even when the most brutal physical means are used, the long- term effects may be mainly psychological, even when the most refined psychological means are resorted to, there is nearly always the accompanying effect of severe physical pain. A common effect is the disintegration of the personality.
Break Them Down is available for free download here.
Democracy Now! has published a transcript of Dr. Keller’s appearance on the show.