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Descent into the Dark Ages: Torture and its Perceived Legitimacy in Contemporary Times 

Descent into the Dark Ages: Torture and its Perceived Legitimacy in Contemporary Times
Descent into the Dark Ages: Torture and its Perceived Legitimacy in Contemporary Times

Derrick Silove

, Susan Rees

, and Zachary Steel

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date: 24 September 2021

Derrick Silove, Susan Rees, and Zachary Steel review the modern international movement that sought to abolish torture and support refugee survivors, culminating in the 1984 Convention Against Torture whose prohibition is absolute. They discuss arguments against torture, including risks of torturing the wrong person, for wrong reasons, and/or eliciting wrong information; and the empirical finding that torture is a potent cause of PTSD, to a lesser degree of depression, and in final analyses remains the strongest factor predicting PTSD risk. Whether the staple of post-torture treatment is psychotherapy for trauma or a broad-based, multidisciplinary psychosocial approach, focusing on resettlement, acculturation, language acquisition, and building resiliency, is debatable. The unraveling consensus against torture in the ‘war on terror’ after ‘9/11’ is described, the qualified support of leading academics, and the US Bush Administration’s subversion of the Geneva Conventions, pursuing enhanced interrogations while denying these caused physical or psychological harm. Steps leading societies towards torture include the role of political leaders, propaganda and dehumanizing language, overriding normal judicial processes for ‘national security’, attacking critics, and offering plausible excuses afterwards, including deniability. The authors particularly review the lack of evidence that supports mental health professionals assessing and monitoring torture.

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