Posted by Sappho on September 16th, 2006 filed in Peace Testimony, Torture
I just saw where my concern about torture intersects with what I’ve been hearing in the various lectures I’ve attended about bipolar disorder: sleep deprivation. Eve, in a reflection on people who want to distinguish between “real torture” and “you know, just a little smacky-face,” quotes a Washington Post op-ed by a Soviet dissident who lived through some of the “treatment” under discussion:
Now it appears that sleep deprivation is “only” CID and used on Guantanamo Bay captives. Well, congratulations, comrades! It was exactly this method that the NKVD used to produce those spectacular confessions in Stalin’s “show trials” of the 1930s. The henchmen called it “conveyer,” when a prisoner was interrogated nonstop for a week or 10 days without a wink of sleep. At the end, the victim would sign any confession without even understanding what he had signed.
My first thought on reading this was to remember that, in lectures about maintenance on bipolar disorder, sleep deprivation is always mentioned as a potential trigger for mania. So Joel, who is always advised to make a regular sleep schedule a major part of his recovery, would be at risk of going manic under this “treatment,” which would indeed, I suppose, ensure that he talked a lot more (pressured speech is one symptom of mania), but which wouldn’t exactly increase the reliability of whatever he’s saying. Of course, we don’t expect most of the people in Gitmo to be bipolar, so sleep deprivation shouldn’t be driving them insane, right? Wrong, since it turns out that sleep deprivation even in normal people can experience misperceptions by day 4 of being deprived of sleep, delusions by day 5, sleep deprivation psychosis by day 6. It’s hard for me to see how a “treatment” that could leave a person hallucinating, delusional, and paranoid at the time he or she is supposed to be giving information counts as non-torture.
Some other links:
Sleep Deprivation, Psychosis and Mental Efficiency describes the symptoms of two people voluntarily undergoing sleep deprivation, in one case to make the Guinness Book of World Records, and in another case to raise money for the March of Dimes.
Why ocean racers fear sleep deprivation psychosis, and what they do to get enough sleep at sea.
The BBC on the use of sleep deprivation, around the world, as an instrument of torture
“It is such a standard form of torture that basically everybody has used it at one time or another,” says Andrew Hogg, of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.
Going without sleep is intensely stressful, with unpredictable short and long-term effects. People lose the ability to act and think coherently. And as it leaves no physical mark on the victim, the interrogator can claim that they never laid a finger on those in their charge.
Former KGB prison in Vilnius, Lithuania
John Schlapobersky, consultant psychotherapist to the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture, was himself tortured through sleep deprivation, in his case in apartheid South Africa in the 1960s.
“Making a programme in which people are deprived of sleep is like treating them with medication that will make them psychotic. It also demeans the experiences of those who have involuntarily gone through this form of torture. It is the equivalent of bear-baiting, and we banned that centuries ago.
“I was kept without sleep for a week in all. I can remember the details of the experience, although it took place 35 years ago. After two nights without sleep, the hallucinations start, and after three nights, people are having dreams while fairly awake, which is a form of psychosis.
“By the week’s end, people lose their orientation in place and time – the people you’re speaking to become people from your past; a window might become a view of the sea seen in your younger days. To deprive someone of sleep is to tamper with their equilibrium and their sanity.”
Is Sleep Deprivation Torture? By Michael M. Rosen.
Sleep deprivation therefore presents a perfect wedge issue. On the one hand, preventing a suspect from sleeping lowers his inhibitions and makes him more likely to reveal damning information in exchange for the opportunity to resume sleeping. On the other hand, continuous, long-lasting denial of sleep can cause persistent psychological and brain damage while at the same time yielding inaccurate or hallucinatory confessions.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in a widely-quoted passage of his book White Nights, recalled his captivity as a sleepless inmate in a KGB prison: “In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep… Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.”
â€œTorture liteâ€ is still torture. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has ruled that sleep deprivation â€œmay in some cases constitute torture.â€ The United States itself has also declared sleep deprivation to be a form of torture, as exemplified in the 2001 U.S. State Department report on Turkey, Israel, and Jordan that lists sleep deprivation among alleged torture techniques.
The Inquisition was responsible for making torture a regular part of Europe’s legal system. Medieval courts used sporadic torture and ordeals (which were often painful). In the late Middle Ages, the Church campaigned against ordeals. As a replacement, the Inquisition developed the inquisitorial legal procedure in the 13th century. Their system was based on the old legal system of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire allowed torture of certain types of witnesses, and unfortunately the Inquisition included that in their new, updated version of Roman law.
However they were not fools. The Inquisition fully realized that people under torture would frequently say anything, just to make the pain stop. Therefore they devised a series of strict limitations on the use of torture….
Were these limitations effective? Yes — surprisingly so. Analysis of court records shows that when the Inquisition’s limitations on torture were met, approximately 50% of accused men and “almost all” accused women withstood torture without confessing….
So despite ugly features like torture, the inquisitorial procedure worked okay for several centuries. Things didn’t fall apart until the 15th and 16th centuries, as the panic over Witches began to increase dramatically. As the terror grew, so did the pressure on the courts. They *needed* convictions. And for convictions they *needed* confessions. A system that let “almost all” women go free was clearly broken.
During the panics, almost all countries adopted torture. Some, like Sweden, did not normally allow it. However since no Witches would confess, Sweden finally decided that torture was permissible *only* in Witch trials. When the law forbade torture, as it did in England, Witch hunters often ignored the law. …
Some forms of torture were more humane, but equally effective. Witches were forced to stay awake for over 40 hours at a stretch; in England this was called “waking the Witch.” Since sleep deprivation causes hallucinations and makes the victim very susceptible to suggestion it’s almost a miracle that anyone escaped this process without confessing.
Another article which discusses the use of “torture lite” in witch hunting in the 17th century
His methods were mainly bloodless, as torture was illegal, and this was his way of ‘getting round’ the law. In modern times, all the methods that Hopkins used would be considered to be torture. Sleep deprivation, making the victim walk or run up and down without rest and ‘pricking’ the skin led to a great deal of distress to innocent women, most of who were elderly and made the mistake of owning pets that Hopkins considered to be ‘familiars’ who would feed on blood from the ‘third nipple’.
Prisoners would often be kept in cold, windowless cells and made to sit on uncomfortable wooden stools1. If the prisoner was seen to doze off they would be ‘Walked’, literally force marched around the cell, until they had woken up again….
Evidently, sleep deprivation was really effective, back in the day, in unearthing evidence of witchcraft.