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Torture, whether physical or psychological or both, depends on complicated interpersonal relationships between those who torture, those tortured, bystanders and others. Torture also involves deeply personal processes in those tortured, in those who torture and in others. These interacting psychological relationships, processes and dynamics form the basis for the psychology of torture.

Contents

The torture process to the torturer

Motivation to torture

Research over the past 50 years, starting with the Milgram experiment, suggests that under the right circumstances and with the appropriate encouragement and setting, most people can be encouraged to actively torture others.[1]

Stages of torture mentality include:

  • Reluctant or peripheral participation
  • Official encouragement: As the Stanford prison experiment and Milgram experiment show, many people will follow the direction of an authority figure (such as a superior officer) in an official setting (especially if presented as mandatory), even if they have personal uncertainty. The main motivations for this appear to be fear of loss of status or respect, and the desire to be seen as a "good citizen" or "good subordinate".
  • Peer encouragement: to accept torture as necessary, acceptable or deserved, or to comply from a wish to not reject peer group beliefs. This may potentially lead to torture gangs roaming the streets seeking dominant torture status.
  • Dehumanization: seeing victims as objects of curiosity and experimentation, where pain becomes just another test to see how it affects the victim.
  • Disinhibition: socio-cultural and situational pressures may cause torturers to undergo a lessening of moral inhibitions and as a result act in ways not normally countenanced by law, custom and conscience.
  • Organisationally, like many other procedures, once torture becomes established as part of internally acceptable norms under certain circumstances, its use often becomes institutionalised and self-perpetuating over time, as what was once used exceptionally for perceived necessity finds more reasons claimed to justify wider use.

One of the apparent ringleaders of the Abu Ghraib prison torture incident, Charles Graner Jr., exemplified some of these when he was reported to have said, "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.'"[2]

References

Further reading

  • McCoy, Alfred, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (Hardcover)
  • Conroy, John, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

See also








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