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The First Blow

This Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory (2008)

by Nicholas Chare

June 21, 2010

 

Jean Améry wrote of physical torture that at the first blow ‘trust in the world breaks down’ (Jean Améry, At the Mind’s Limits, Granta. [1999] p. 28). The release of the images of abuse committed at Abu Ghraib also caused a collapse of trust. Torture is now under the media spotlight thanks to the behaviour of the military in Iraq. The collection of essays edited by Almerindo E. Ojeda, The Trauma of Psychological Torture, consider the effects upon mental health of increasingly refined forms of psychological torment developed by the CIA and other organizations in order to extract information from prisoners. This kind of torture is not covered by legislation which bans physical torture of the kind experienced by Améry yet the damage it inflicts upon the mind can endure for a lifetime. The essays in The Trauma of Psychological Torture consider issues such as the origins of such torture, the neurobiological and neuropsychiatric effects of such torture, and the ethical duty of health professionals when called upon to facilitate the implementation of psychological interrogation strategies. The collection concludes with two specific case studies that detail the psychological consequences of long-term mental torture. The essays in the collection are intended to draw attention to the detrimental effects of psychological torture and to encourage action to stop the practice. Even the more scientific papers are accessible and, therefore, the book could be included on reading lists for undergraduate courses relating to ethics or to human rights law. The collection will also be of general interest to anyone whose research is associated with the investigation of torture.

Ojeda, Almerindo, ed. The Trauma of Psychological Torture. Praeger. [2008] pp. 240. hb US$ 49.95 ISBN 9 7803 1334 5142.

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