Last year, Basoglu discovered that the trauma associated with CIDT [“cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” considered separately from physical torture but also illegal] has two further aspects that increase its psychological impact (American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, vol 79, p 135). His study of 432 torture survivors from Turkey and former Yugoslavia revealed that when several techniques are applied at the same time – such as hooding while forced to stand naked in a stress position – the effects of each one compounds the effects of the others. In addition he discovered that CIDT has a cumulative impact over time, fuelled by the sense of helplessness that it engenders. This means that it makes little sense to ask whether any specific CIDT amounts to torture, Basoglu says, because the overall impact cannot be judged separately from the context in which it is administered.

The same study revealed that people who had been subjected to CIDT were at greater risk of developing long-term mental health problems than those who had been subjected to physical torture alone. Basoglu suggests that this might be because torture stimulates the victim’s body to release pain-relieving opioids, and this process is triggered more rapidly with repeated exposure to pain. Victims often report that the anticipation of torture is worse than the torture itself, during which they describe a general numbing of the body.

New Scientist: Beyond torture: the future of interrogation