"Impunidad y sus Efectos en los Procesos Democráticos"

Seminario Internacional, Santiago de Chile, Chile, 14 de diciembre de 1996



Impunity Versus Healing
por Rona M. Fields
American School of Professional Psychology


In a research on trauma and its consequences, two distinct subject groups were compared--victims of depth interrogation torture in Northern Ireland and survivors of hostage captivity. The same psychological measures were utilized and there were significant differences in scores between groups with less variance within each group than between them. In the reports on that research, published in 1981 (Alexander and Gleason) analysis of these differences included geographic, social class, age, gender and experience of prior stress. Two factors loomed dramatically apart from these demographics--altruistic activity (pro-social behaviors) and cumulative violent traumata. At that time, there were few other empirical studies of trauma victins. Since then, however, studies have proliferated albeit rarely comparing in the same research victims of different kinds of trauma. In this presentation, I will summarize my analysis of a thousand examinations of victims of state sponsored torture from at least six different countries and cultures. Their psycho dynamics, medical sequelae and social behavior consequent to their traumatization will be compared with victims of other kinds of violent trauma---primarily those who have been hostages of terrorists--either politically or criminally motivated. Sudden incarceration, helplessness, powerlessness and ambiguity characterize both circumstances. Whereas a POW has the certainty of hisXher identity, uniform and preparation for this eventuality, civilians--even members of political opposition groups or illegal political organizations have none of these assurances. The goal of the torturer/captor is to generate disequilibrium inducing submission. But this objective is not uniformly prioritized by state sponsored torture and terrorist hostage captivity. The objective of the former may be to induce the victim to divulge critical information and to the latter, the first priority may be the intended impact on the victims' affiníty group--vengeance and attention to their cause. For the victims of both kinds of trauma, the psychodynamic generates de-personalization as a defense mechanism. There are three levels at which to analyze and differentiate the consequences of their trauma on victims of violence:

This paper will focus on the comparison of two groups of subject who have survived torture in incarceration: Hostages of terrorist groups and Political prisoners. Most of the individuals in both groups were not members of a military organization when they were taken prisoner.


Objectives and Arena

Some circumstances of captivity appear to have critical importance on differential experience, One such variable is whether capture occurred as an individual, or as a group; the degree, kind and cohesion of group identity and affinity amongst the captives; their proximity during the ordeal and, perhaps most significant, their subjective identity in relation to or imposed by their captors. Thus, it is quite possible for hostage victims of bank robbers in Sweden to become sympathetic over time with their captors and thus the "Stockholm Syndrome" about which Ochburg and others have the "Stockholm Syndrome" about which Ochburg and others have written. There have been studies of concentration camp victims who were elevated to "kapo" status and, are said to have identified with the aggressors. But in studies of hostages--most notably with the American embassy personnel held hostage by the Iranians and the B'nai B'rith employees captive by the Hanafi Muslins in Washington, D.C. Their captors distinguished them as "inferiors" and humiliated them to reinforce the social distance between them. Individuals in these circumstances exhibited no sympathy nor identification with their aggressors.

The objective of the captors in these cases was symbolic vendetta. The individuals captured had significance as pawns. They were demeaned, humiliated, tortured as "symbols". Such is usually the objective of the political terrorist and the rioting convicts who take their guards as hostages.

The venue of captivity may be the victims' own work or living quarters, or, as was the case for the hostages in Lebanon, torture and detention was always in a dank unfamiliar place. The captors' objectives vacillated. Their prisoners were hostages but also suspects. Interrogation prisoners were hostages but also suspects. Interrogation torture was utilized as on some of the U.S. hostages in Iran.

The venue and objectives with political prisoners is substantively different. They are helplessly subject to the machinery and will of their own state institutions. The power institutions of own society are arrayed against them. There are two objectives of torture on political prisoners. First there is interrogation for information. The other is subjugation, dehumanization in the expectation that this diminishes the potential for action against the state. The indirect--or larger social objective--as was the unpredictability of death camps and transports in all the certainty of the Holocaust--is to terrorize the larger society. Thus the force of the state asserted against "political enemies" subjectively and without charge or terrorizes--spreads disequilibrium--throughout the polity. The whole society becomes hostage--under siege through fear.

There are the direct victiss--the tortured, murdered and disappeared; the secondary victims--the survivors who suffer survivor guilt and fear from their relationship with the survivor guilt and fear from their relationship with the direct victim--another kind of Post Traumatic Stress syndrome. And in ever widening circles, the entire society becomes fixated in their powerless vulnerability, feeling threatened--alienated, factionated and politically ineffectual.

Thus the objectives are fulfilled whether the terrorizing force is non-governmental or the State. The difference between the two in the consequences to the victimized society remain. The former--the non-governnental or guerrilla terrorizers--even a foreign invader--is recognizably distinct from the victim population. Fear of the oppressor may become overpowering and paralyzing, but there is a distinction between "them" and "ust'. We vindicate and validate our selves even when besieged. We can share in the suffering which itself ameliorates the psychological consequences. There is, after all, universal idealization of martyrdom in behalf of justice. Utilizing standardized psychological measures, I found that victims of hostage terrorization do not lose their personal sense of efficacy nor see themselves unable to surmount obstacles nor adversity.

The political psychology of victins tortured by the ruling institutions of their own society, takes a less sanguine course. They experience shame, guilt, inefficacy, self doubt. They have been made to feel different, marginal and ineffective. Their tormentors' objectives have been achieved. The torture victim, the survivor, has come to doubt the validity of his or her senses, judgment, experience and self.


Psychological and Medical Consequences

Psychological sequelae are related in inverse proportion to the victins' previous experience of traumatic stress. Some research findings on POWs and concentration camp survivors indicate that psychological survival was facilitated for those who had strong beliefs and viewed their torment as "suffering for a cause". Studies of Northern Ireland victins, show a distinction between those who had political convictions and a well developed sense of identity as activists, and those who were novices, "accidental" detainees and the very young. Eitinger and Strom, studying Norwegian concentration camp survivors who were detained and tortured presumptive to anti-Nazi activity, concluded that tortured presumptive to anti-Nazi activity, concluded that the youngest of them and those who had a prior history of medical and psychological illnesses he worst. This was true with the Northern Ireland victins. The age of the victim insotar as development of identity and maturity of moral judgment are concerned, strongly influence the severity and duration of stress effects. Less identity secure individuals are most susceptible to the psychoneurotic sequelae of the traumatic stress. There seems to be s direct relationship between the kind of humiliation and ego threat sustained and the incidence of psychoneurotic and psychosomatic sequelae. Conversion, or "Stockholm Syndrome" is unlikely when a mature victim is humiliated, demeaned, threatened by the torturer as a "sub species"--de-humanized.

Medically, the effects of traumatic stress are partly a consequence of damage to the immune system. But the sleeplessness, gastro-enterological anomalies, central nervous system damage temporary and permanent, and cardio-vascular damage are measurable This is in addition to damage consequent to direct physical trauma, blows to the head, crushed extremities, skin damaged by electric shock or burning. These visible, external evidences of damage to bodily integrity are matched by the hidden systemic damages. Among the subjects in my studies were victims who had suffered crippling physical impairments. They seemed, almost miraculously, not to experience the same kinds of psychoneurotic and psychosomatic sequelae. studies of brain processes during spontaneous "flashbacks" refer to the "kindling" effect. This re-excitation of the most acute stage of stress response seem to have a corrosive organic effect I'he shrinkage of cortical matter in the ventricles apparent on brain scans of torture victims is dramatic physical evidence of the somaticization of stress. Besides the data from laboratory studies that prolonged exposure to stressful conditions can alter the activities of the cardiovascular system is ways resulting in premature morbidity and mortality Eitinger points out that when adaptive reactions fail, the victim becomes frightened and the consequent anxiety syndrome can persist over several years even if the stress has been relatively brief. He suggests that this is the result of loss of trust in the victim's own integrity, the capacity of protective agencies and the stability of the milieu. To complicate and exacerbate this self distrust and loss of trust is lack of sympathetic response to the victim.

Exacerbate this self distrust and loss of trust is lack of sympathetic response to the victim.

Even without their prior interrogation experiences, participants in this study were well aware of the threat posed by law enforcement agencies- throughout their lives, especially since 1971 when the first cases of officially sanctioned torture became known. After that, these victims suffered anticipatory stress reactions as well as actual sleep deprivation, sound conditioning, beatings, accusations, humiliation, hooding and stress positioning. These experiences modified their ability to think and act, lowered levels of perceptual discrimination motor coordination and awareness. Living with this continual or intermittent stress and constant threat decreases motor efficiency as well as cognitive functioning. There is a measurable relationship between adverse stress reactions and the victims' sense of psychological or social isolation. Those who are able to make some attempt to relate to other victims and concern themselves with acting in behalf of others--altruistically, seem to serve their own best interests as well. This phenomenon is reported in some Holocaust literature and anecdotes by Primo Levi, Victor Frankl, Arnost Lustig and by Robert Lifton in his studies of victiss and survivors.


The Social Response

Once released from captivity the effects of the trauma are either ameliorated or exacerbated. by the social support systems available to victins This is dramatically evident in studies of US victins of terrorism examined at yearly intervals for three years. Those who were provided psychotherapy on an individual and nuclear family basis and those who had at least a few peer group sessions with a therapist weref over time, less likely to exhibit exaggerated symptons. Victims of brutal interrogation and detention treatment in Northern Ireland, also suffered, upon their release, social stimulation and isolation from the majority of people in their community. Alienation from spouses and lovers and experiences of disorganization in the workforce--which had already rejected many of them because they were Catholics--combined to extend the victins' anxieties and to prolong their stress.

Even in the case of hostage victims returned home from prolonged captivity abroad--national heroes as were the Iranian hostages, society has strange attitudes to the victims. These range from shock and denial as expressed by TV anchorman Dan Rather when, after scrutinizing the returning hostages; viewing an interview with one of them who had developed MS in harsh captivity, I expressed my opinion that they would need professional help to overcome the effects. My own professional organization (American Psychological Association, which announced in a press release: "....there is no evidence suggesting that these fine Americans who have survived their captivity will suffer any dire effects..."

There seems to be reluctance and resistance to accept the innocence or accidental nature of victimization. This probably stems from the need to find rational explanation for violent events. Exposure to senseless, irrational, brutal behavior makes one feel vulnerable and helpless. In addition, the community has other attitudes that block sympathetic response. One is the primitive fear of contamination by the unlucky victim. The result of this primitive response is to isolate or exclude the victim.

This is especially the case with victins of State Terror. The fear of "contamination" is partially realistic through the prevalence of guilt by association in authoritarian regimes.

Finally, the accumulated data on victins suggests that similarities in effect are independent of the source of terrorization State terrorism or terrorism wielded by insurgents or criminals, produces a condition of stress that is dependent, to a great degree, on subjective characteristics of the victim including the demographics of their place in the social system; the circumstances under which the stress is experienced and the relationship induced by the torturer with the victim. There would seem to be little training possible for coping with the trauma of terrorization yet there is considerable evidence suggesting that social support systems, including psychotherapy are crucial to rehabilitation.

The vindication and validation requisite to social and psychological wholeness, can only be provided through public acknowledgment. When the victim's suffering continues exacerbation by his/her pariah status vis a vis the social political system, torture is extended in perpetuity, exacerbation by his/her pariah status vis a vis the social political system, torture is extended in perpetuity. 





Página Inicial del Sitio