Crossing The Line: What Constitutes Torture?
Torture. The United Nations defines it as the “infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” But how severe is severe? That judgment determines whether or not the law classifies an interrogation practice as torture.
The reason: The people estimating the severity of pain aren’t experiencing that pain-so they underestimate it.
As a result, many acts of torture are not classified-or prohibited-as torture, say authors, Loran F. Nordgren of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Mary-Hunter Morris of Harvard Law School, and George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University.
The researchers were moved to undertake the study by their alarm at the Bush Administration’s defense of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as stresspostures and waterboarding. In court and the media, officials minimized the psychological and physical distress caused by these techniques-and insisted they were not torture.
In this denial, the authors saw a perfect demonstration of a psychological phenomenon called the “empathy gap,” says Loewenstein: “People in one affective state”-hunger, anger, pain-“cannot appreciate or predict another one.” If you’re warm, you can’t imagine the misery of being cold; if you’re rested, sleep deprivation doesn’t seem so bad…
…The study’s conclusion: “The legal standard for evaluating torture is psychologically untenable.”
So what can be done? First, overcompensate. “Knowing that we tend to be biased toward not counting torture as torture, we should define torture very liberally, very inclusively,” says Loewenstein. And don’t trust empathy. “This is an area where we can’t rely on our emotional system to guide us. We have to use our intellect.”
- [In the news] Human rights advocates hold seminar with NGOs on new anti-torture law- www.zamboangatoday.ph (hronlineph.wordpress.com)
- The NYT And Torture: The Double Standard Deepens, Ctd (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)
- New Online Timeline: Psychology, Torture, and the APA Since 9/11 (psychologytoday.com)
- Foreign Office issues guidance on torture (telegraph.co.uk)
- Newspaper thinks maybe sexual torture was consensual even though torturer has already admitted guilt (feministphilosophers.wordpress.com)
- Why 60 Percent of Young People Support Torture (thedailybeast.com)
- George Bush: no escaping torture charges | Katherine Gallagher (guardian.co.uk)
- Obama’s Legal Professor Outraged by ‘Torture’ of Bradley Manning, Decries His “Degrading and Inhumane” Imprisonment (alternet.org)
- Jennifer Turner: While Manning Languishes in Military Custody, U.N. Calls for Accountability for Torture (huffingtonpost.com)
- William Hague orders British diplomats to report torture of terror suspects (dailymail.co.uk)
- Is Obama embracing torture? State Dept spokesman out of a job after criticizing treatment of Manning (gunnyg.wordpress.com)
- Why “Torture” Is So Hard to Define (psychologytoday.com)
- Gitmo Doctors Ignored Signs of Torture, Study Charges (livescience.com)
- [Statement] Personal Statement by Melissa Roxas CHR Resolution Only Serves To Maintain and Perpetuate Impunity (hronlineph.wordpress.com)
- Medical evidence of torture neglected in Guantánamo Bay detainees, suggests review of records (Science Daily, 26 April 2011)
- Torturing In The Name Of Humanity (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
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