Review of the text
"Notes on the Dark Side of the Torturer/Victim Relationship"
Dr. Carlos Alberto Arestivo

PSYCOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF TORTURE IN DIFFERENT HISTORICAL PERIODS

- Torture can be DEFINED as "an action made by one or more people (called torturers) in a situation of absolute power over life or death, in regards to another person (the victim) who is completely defenseless, without any chance of avoiding torment, escaping or defending himself.
The tortured person can only submit and suffer, putting his physical and psychological resistance to the test."

- The AIM of torture is to "produce torment and terror through any kind of pain, suffering, vexation and humiliation; torture widely attacks all the vulnerable aspects of the human being with the aim of breaking their defenses and resistance."

 

- Torture is a practice that has been used by humanity since the beginning of time, and, as the reports by Amnesty International say, is still used today by many "civilized" nations.

- Let's first distinguish the practice of torture used in a "PRIVATE" context and that used in a "PUBLIC" one.

- "PRIVATE" use is using coercion to extort confessions in criminal circles, or, using of exemplary punishment, in delinquent subcultures, like the mafia, ndrangheta and the camorra.

- From a psychological point of view this type of torture, in the first case, is one of the expressions of a sadistic delinquent personality, indifferent to life and others' suffering; in the second case it is mostly characterized by ritual and tribal connotations - expressions of criminal subculture.

- Another field for "PRIVATE" torture is represented by sexual sadism and masochism whose characteristics I'll put off for now.

- Certain psychoses and psychopathy can produce individuals who are indifferent to the suffering and the lives of others.

- In the "PUBLIC" context three historical periods can be distinguished as well as three fields for different uses of torture.

 

- The FIRST period, which ended in Europe around the end of the 1700s, can be connected to the idea of punishment given by the authorities, for example "exemplary punishment", in proportion to the dignity of the offended person. One terrible example of this concept is represented by the punishment given to Robert François Damiens in 1757 in France for having injured Louis XV with a knife.

- The death penalty, applied very easily and for numerous crimes, did not constitute a general punishment, but included numerous methods of execution, preceded at times by a series of tortures.

- The cruel application of the "laws of God", described in the Bible, the punishment included in Roman Law, and the treatment given to conquered peoples and slaves, are known by all.

- Punishments, executed publicly, held different meanings:

  • Warning and deterrent, aimed at the entire population, including the criminals, demonstrating the consequences of the crime;
  • Sadistic spectacle offered by the authorities, from the Roman "circenses" onwards, in order to entertain the public and gain their favour;
  • Perverted uses of rituals and sacrifice in order to reinforce the idea of community;
  • Reinforcement of the authorities, distinction between people and authority. The cruelest punishments were used for crimes against nobility, while similar acts made against common citizens were punished less severely

- This use of suffering and torture in public is still used in many countries of the third world.

 

- The SECOND period includes the use of torture by the public, political or religious authorities as a tool for obtaining confessions from the tortured person.

- Analysis of historical documents confirms the general use of this practice in all of the so-called "civil" populations since antiquity.

- In Ecclesiastic Law, at the time of the Inquisition, torture was not considered a punishment, but a "test" to obtain confessions

- The use of torture is, therefore, the expression of human evolution: where torture is regulated and generally applied in criminal, political or religious trials, we find ourselves in front of a people still far behind in evolution and civilization.

- The more regulated it is, the stronger and more evident it becomes.

- The Holy Inquisition, official expression of the Catholic Church, ideologically justifies its bloody work as the battle of good vs. evil, and not tolerating the existence of the "separantes se a communitate aliorum et potestatem Papae et Ecclesiae enervantes", as one of the most famous theoreticians of the Inquisition, Bernardo da Guido claimed in 1322 in his book "Pratica officii inquisitoris haereticae pravitatis".

- The actions of the Inquisition we not aimed so much at contrasting heresy on the theological level, but contrasting it in its public forms.

- The invitation the inquisitors gave to the guilty was to renounce the "haeretica pravitas", and aimed at reintegrating the heretic with legality: and this legality was represented by the constituted order, which is religious order, but also social and political order, fundamental to medieval society.

- Afterwards, religious ideology became, over the years, the pretext to eliminate all those who were "different" - rebels, political enemies, etc..

- The most famous texts on which the inquisitors based themselves in their atrocious practice were: the Bull "Ad extirpanda" emanated by Pope Innocent IV in 1252, and the more famous "Malleus maleficarum", written in 1486 by E.Institor and J.Sprenger.

- Years before, in England (1215), the Magna Charta Libertatum was emanated. This document, written by King John, in the name of the "antique liberties of England", establishes the rights of the citizens, rights that the sovereign promises not to violate.

But Pope Innocent III, to whom King John had sworn and paid homage to in order to gain kingship over England and Ireland, declared the Magna Charta null and void with a Papal Bull, in the name of the defense of the sovereignty of the Church, which coincides with that of the crown.

The new king of England, Henry III Plantagenet in 1216 promulgated the Magna Charta again and reconfirmed it in 1225.

- In 1679, with the emanation of the "Habeas Corpus Act" in England, the principle of personal non-violation and its guarantees is decreed.

This act states that:

  • those who hold a prisoner must bring him in front of the competent authorities and declare in which day and for what crimes the criminal was arrested;
  • the judge cannot pass a sentence if the detainee is not present;
  • the detainee has the possibility to pay bail and be freed while waiting for judgment.

- This document remained a theoretical declaration of ideological principals. With the passing of time, these ideas were understood by state authorities that started on the road to democracy. Part of the text of the "Habeas Corpus" was cited in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

However today in England and the Unites States, it is still possible to temporarily suspend the application of "habeas corpus", in "exceptional circumstances and reasons of public order".

- Besides, evolution has not followed the same path in the same time: in 1768, the "Constitutio Theresiana Criminalis", that is, the penal code used in part of Europe, still included the use of torture and described in detail how to use it. Attached to the code are appendices with illustrations showing how to build and use instruments of torture, to be used in the inquisitional phase of the penal process.

- The THIRD period of the "public" application of torture is represented by the "strategy of terror", meaning the actions made by a governing authority to conquer, retain and increase its power.

- This is not casual violence, done by some officials or government workers; what's shocking in this context is that everything that happens to a population is part of a precise, well thought out plan.

- Here too we can distinguish between "strategies of terror" aimed at striking external enemies and internal enemies.

- In the FIRST GROUP (external enemies) we find some historical examples of the use of torture as a defense. I'll only cite one: Prince Vlad who ruled what is now Romania in the XIII century - he saw that his army was no match for the Turkish army coming up from the south, so he resorted to the following plan.

- He sent approximately twenty thousand of his subjects to the southern border. He then tortured and impaled them, telling Mohammed II through his ambassadors that any Turkish prisoner would have received a fate worse than that which he gave to his subjects.

- This atrocity reached its aim and Romania was saved from the Turkish invasion; Prince Vlad was given the title "Saviour of the Country", which he carried along with two other names with which he was known by the people: "Tepes" (the Impaler) and the more famous "Dracula" (from the ancient Romanian "dracul" meaning "dragon" or "devil") Bram Stoker was inspired by this historical person when he wrote his famous novel "Dracula the Vampire" in 1897.

- The SECOND TYPE (internal enemies) of use of the "strategy of terror" is aimed at eliminating and destroying political adversaries from within the nation. Unfortunately there are many examples, and the roads taken are very similar independently from where they occur.

- One example is Paraguay, which was under the dictatorship of General Stroessner for 35 years: from 1954 to 1989 - a much longer period than other South American nations.

- As soon as they had achieved a minimum amount of political support, Stroessner and his followers created " a political apparatus that presented a semblance of democracy and legality acceptable by the current government"

- Right after that, once he had consolidated his power, Stroessner "suspended indefinitely the guarantees for personal liberty covered by the national constitution; afterwards, through corruption, he was able to break the unity of the main opposing party e created a 'democratic' parliament, by using those politicians who were convinced, through money and threats, to take his side, although they appeared to be part of the opposition.

- "The next move was that of seducing and converting the remaining members of the opposition, putting them on his side, and therefore obtaining legal majority, in order to write a new constitution with them that, under the appearance of democracy, allowed the dictator to obtain absolute power, through laws limiting liberty and that legalized every type of violation of human rights.

- "These offences to human dignity were made possible by a "legal" system in which those few holding the power, armed with absolute impunity, were fully able to vex, persecute, arrest and assassinate any type of opposition.

- "A law which followed also allowed the oppressors to use the state finances for their own personal enrichment.

- "The consequence of this situation on the masses was to institute an atmosphere of collective terror, enough to slow down or paralyze any type of opposition to power. Individuals or political groups that showed signs of opposition were simply eliminated through extermination.

- "The rest of the people had to accept the situation, and a climate of general diffidence was created. The fear of being betrayed or denounced, destroyed any ties of trust and helpfulness among friends, neighbors and even families "

- In this context, the systematic use of torture for political adversaries isn't used so much to obtain confessions about personal crimes or to reveal the names of accomplices, but rather to " produce a detailed and complete destruction of the persona, which has the double effect of making the single political adversary innocuous and to increase control over the population through the strategy of terror."

- Once the tortured victims are freed, purposely, they become terrible living messages and underline the omnipotence of the constituted power, contributing to increasing the general feeling of constant threat to opposition throughout the people.

- The technique of the so-called "irregular reinforcement" in the choice of victims (which consists in arbitrarily punishing every category of person, and constantly changing what is permitted and what is not permitted) widens and increases the power of terror, repeating the message that the powers can reach anyone and that no one is safe.

- Torture, used in this context, eliminated the need to physically kill all the adversaries, with the risk of turning them into heroes or martyrs, because it gives the people back to society, even though they had been destroyed psychologically and were now incapable of any political action.

- The political adversary, or supposed political adversary, is almost always arrested during the night, in a brutal and violent fashion and he knows, from the first moment, that his detention will not be officialized and that, if his friends and family go to the authorities to ask for information about him, the police will deny the arrest, and he will be spoken of in fear, just like another "desaparicido".

- The prisoner also knows that his detention could last months or even years, during which he will be systematically tortured; he understands that he is totally defenseless and must rely on the mercy of those who arrested him and that they could also kill him without consequences, without trial, knowing that nobody will ever know about it.

- Everything that then happens to him has already been planned:

- The victim is first isolated in a cell, or, if he shares the prison with others, he is blindfolded and often gagged so that he cannot communicate with anyone. "Isolation not only terrifies, but also causes anxiety and often causes such a high level of despair as to destroy the personality"

- In this context, the only person with whom a relationship can be forged is that person who conducts the interrogation, or rather the torturer, and it is with him that the victim desperately tries to create a relationship, so as to have a bit of relief, but "the terror technique also foresees this; in fact prisoners are often transferred from one facility to the next and the torturers are often changed so that the high level of stress can be maintained."

- "The level of constant alarm and continuing terror makes it hard to sleep; if however, due to exhaustion, the victim were to fall asleep, he would be woken up violently by the guards ". Unbalancing the wake/sleep rhythms is another way of weakening the person

- The destruction of the sense of time is often increased with total sensory deprivation and the use of drugs and psycho-pharmaceuticals

- Added to this is the fact that the victim is only allowed to eat or drink the minimum necessary to keep them alive

- The prisoner is tortured everyday; often a doctor is present during a torture session. His job is to make sure that the prisoner stays awake by making him take amphetamines if necessary, to increase the pain; his other job is to make sure that the victim doesn't die because of the torture

- In some cases, when the torturers find themselves in front of people particularly resistant to torture who would rather die than give in, a family member or close friend is arrested and tortured in front of them

- Afterwards, the prisoner is given to a group of torturers who remain the same for a long period

- And here is where yet another calculated plan comes in to play and makes this treatment different from the others above:

- In fact the classic interrogation scheme used by the police uses two types of police officers: the first plays the part of the "bad" officer, who hits and yells, while the other plays the part of the "good" officer, he brings coffee, cigarettes and understanding, trying to gain the prisoner's trust and offers him protection

- This scheme presents the alternation of two opposite behaviors on the part of the police and is made to strike the prisoner in his moments of weakness and openness, near trance in some cases, which happen when there is a transition from one state of consciousness to the next

- The novelty introduced in last few years by the police in the dictatorships of Latin America, has been studied by an "expert" psychologist working for the dictators. This is the fact that the "good" and "bad" cop are played by the same person

- If the torturer alternates moments of violence and moments of "understanding, good manners and affection" in front of the prisoner, then the stress levels and confusion of the victim increase, so much that when the torturer arrives, he doesn't know whether he will be tortured again or not. This system also destabilizes the prisoner's psyche and prepares him for a morbid transfer towards his tormentor"

- In these conditions, when the moment of torture arrives, the immobilized victim "can only think quickly and frenetically, so much so that the flow of his simultaneous thoughts confuses him and makes him panic, so that he can no longer formulate ides, the stress is at its utmost."

- A psychiatrist who was tortured in Paraguay, Dr Carlos Alberto Arestivo, tried to elaborate his personal experience, theorizing on the three levels that can happen to varying degrees in the psyche of the victims:

- The first level is that of "ILLUSION": the victim on the one hand tries to kill himself, but he is never able to because the torturers watch him carefully so that this doesn't happen: on the other hand, the victim invokes everything he believes in, from God to his mother, so that they can intercede and make the pain stop, but this doesn't work either.

- This level seems to happen to all the victims. After that, the roads vary.

- Those that, during their lives "couldn't or wouldn't interiorize significant human relationships, but privileged political ideals, aren't able to find in themselves the strength of human relationships, they are incapable of defending their political ideals, and they give in to the torturer's game so that he may then reach his goal."

- The victim "opens his eyes and sees in front of him the only man who can save him, and this is the torturer who is killing him. He has no alternatives he has to trust someone and he trusts his torturer."

- This trust that the victim feels, due to the intense dramatic situation that he is living, is branded as a psychological imprint and is associated to a primary experience of profound regression.

- In the second level, which we will call "TRUST", if the victim cannot reach his interior affections, he then establishes with his torturer a perverse alliance which slowly destroys any political ideal he may have ever had in his personal history, and he is therefore won over "

- The subject, who has been won over by torture, refuses, along with his body, the ideal world that he had forged and accepts his relationship with the torturer as his saviour.

- In other words, the victim falls into a state of profound regression, through which he tries to escape by creating a deep bond with the persecution-filled environment around him and the figure of the torturer.

- In these extreme conditions, the victim can take refuge in an ambiguous state of indifference, a psychological life of the co-existence of opposite worlds, a life in which there is no difference between opposite terms, between good and bad, between liberal democracy and dictatorial oppression.

- Testimony from prisoners of Nazi lagers confirms, in some cases, the emergence of a feeling of self-hatred. The prisoners are seen as dirty, emaciated, ugly, badly-dressed and at the same time a paradoxical admiration for the guards with their shiny boots, ironed uniforms, their authority, efficiency and the fact that they are well-fed, develops.

- This mechanism can be ontologically compared to the state of primary indifference of a child, for whom the distinction between itself and its surroundings is hazy, reaching such a state is a regression that has been adopted and accepted as an escape route from an unsustainable present. - Analogous dynamics can be seen in the "Stockholm Syndrome", which describes a particularly morbid attachment of the hostages to their kidnappers.

- Such a state of ambiguity and apparent friendship with the torturer continues, if it is not appropriately cured, after liberation and makes his reinsertion in society difficult as well as, especially, his internal growth and the possibility of participating fully in life.

- "This level is a disturbing phenomenon, which is not always understood, nor is it accepted but often denied on the part of the torturers who, when they tell of their acts show hate, regret and anger, but, at the same time, show the dark side of the experience: and undisclosed protection of the torturer, trying to justify the unjustifiable ".

- The third level is that of "REFUGE". This is where those who, during their lives, were able to interiorize important relationships relive special moments. When these people are tortured, they evoke the strong feelings that constitute their personal and social identity.

- At this point a hallucinatory phenomenon takes place, which disconnects the victim from the atrocious situation that he is going through, and anesthetizes him totally, until he dies. His muscles relax and he no longer reacts to any form of stimulus. -

- "The victim, while remaining lucid, is able to distance and dissociate himself from his body: he can be somewhere else with his mind. He appears lucid, he can feel that he is being beaten, he can hear the questions he is asked but he hears them from far away as if they weren't aimed at him. These hallucinatory defenses make him live in a dream, surrounded by the affections of his interior world ".

- At this point, the torturers consider the torture session closed and hand over the prisoner to the police doctor, who gives him the minimal amount of cures necessary to keep him alive until the next time.

- This phenomenon shows the defeat of the torturer and underlines the weak point that the regime of terror ignores in its presumed omnipotence.

- A strong interior world of affection and social relationships can constitute the only possible limit to torture.

- This hallucinatory phenomenon is described in the films "Brazil" by Terry Gilliam, and "Kiss of the Spider Woman " by Hector Babenco.

- Hallucinatory "refuge" is maybe the only way to safety in front of torture. It should not be seen as a traumatic psychosis, but as a psychopathological case history sui generis.

- "In fact, in traumatic psychosis the trauma appears suddenly, and does not last a long time, and the individual is not impeded from escaping or defending himself, he is not isolated, humiliated or oppressed ".

- "Torture is something more: the victim undergoes a scientific process of destruction, during which all the physical and psychological factors that allow human beings to survive are attacked systematically: his physical structure to create pain, mutilate and humiliate; his psychological and social structure through isolation, terror, guilt and the destruction of self esteem ".

- I must also add that these psychological phases or levels do not show in the finite way described above, but there are many mixtures and intermediate positions of the different levels and feelings.

- Similar techniques for destructuring personality were also used in China after the rise to power of Maoism. Opposers to the regime were "brain washed", a mechanism that combined awards and punishments, forced political indoctrination, strong peer pressure, loss of a sense of honor and personal dignity by social exclusion or public revelation of private and intimate facts.

- Even worse is the experience in the Romanian prison of Pitesti, between 1949 and 1952, and for which testimony has only recently been released:

- In Pitesti prisoners were atrociously tortured. The architectonic structure of the prison and the control by the guards made it impossible to commit suicide

- Betrayal was encouraged in every way, and it was rewarded with the suspension or attenuation of torture

- The torturers would sleep in the same cell as the victims, therefore impeding any possible comfort offered by friendship or solidarity among the prisoners and impeding a moment to relax

- Afterwards the prisoner was forced to torture in turn the people he cared about most, family, friends or other prisoners to whom he had shown kindness

- This last imposition destroyed the prisoner's psyche even more deeply, by denying him the role of the victim; it made him an accomplice to his enemies with whom even more perverse ties were created.

- We can conclude by citing Dr Arestivo: "many psychopathological case histories that appear in this situation deserve special study, because they go beyond the concepts of psychopathology and of psychiatric nosology.

- Even the symptoms can appear similar to those of clinical case studies already defined by psychiatry, these pathologies are without a doubt still to be understood and clarified, proof is the fact that the victims are not always helped by classic psychotherapeutic treatment."

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