Psychological torture is a type of torture that relies primarily on psychological effects, and only secondarily on any physical harm inflicted. Although not all psychological torture involves the use of physical violence, there is a continuum between psychological torture and physical torture. The two are often used in conjunction with one another, and often overlap in practice, with the fear and pain induced by physical torture often resulting in long-term psychological effects, and many forms of psychological torture involving some form of pain or coercion.
Many forms of psychological torture methods attempt to destroy the subject's normal self-image by removing them from any kind of control over their environment, creating a state of learned helplessness, psychological regression and depersonalization. Other techniques include enforced nudity and head shaving, sleep deprivation, hooding and other forms of sensory deprivation and forcing the subject to adopt stress positions.
A strictly fear-inducing method is the mock execution. Various threats operate on the same fear-inducing principle.
Another is indirect torture, which preys on the victims affection for and loyalty to a partner, relative, friend, comrade in arms et cetera, whose real pain induces vicarious suffering in the targeted psychological victim, who is thus loaded with guilt but spared physical harm that might endanger his ability to comply.
While psychological torture may not leave any lasting physical damage—indeed, this is often one of the motivations for using psychological rather than physical torture—it can result in similar levels of permanent mental damage to its victims.
It has been alleged that some psychological torture methods may have been devised by, or in conjunction with, doctors and psychologists.
The United States has been accused of making extensive use of psychological torture techniques at Guantanamo Bay and other sites subsequent to the 9/11 attacks. Many other countries have been accused of using psychological torture, including Iran. In 1979 the European Human Rights Commission found the United Kingdom government guilty of using psychological torture on IRA political detainees in Northern Ireland.
- Roxanne Khamsi (5 March 2007). "Psychological torture 'as bad as physical torture'". New Scientist. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11313-psychological-torture-as-bad-as-physical-torture.html.
- "Psychological torture: a CIA history". Mind Hacks. February 11, 2008. http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2008/02/psychological_tortur.html.
- Naomi Klein (23 February 2007). "The US psychological torture system is finally on trial". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/feb/23/comment.terrorism.
- Alfred W. McCoy (June 11, 2009). "The CIA's secret history of psychological torture". Salon.com. http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2009/06/11/mccoy/.
- "NCRI Women's Committee calls for release of Taraneh Mousavi". Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. 15 July 2009. http://ncr-iran.org/content/view/6763/1/.