Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “torture”

Psychological effects of torture: a comparison of tortured with nontortured political activists in Turkey

Psychological effects of torture: a comparison of tortured with nontortured political activists in Turkey – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8267139

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are the psychological effects of torture?
  • Do people recover from being tortured?


This 1994 article from the American Journal of Psychiatry was indexed by Medline, a service of the National Library of Medicine. Only the abstract is available online, but you should be able to get the full article through interlibrary loan. The “results” section of the article looks intriguing for writers wondering about the lingering effects of torture:

The torture survivors reported an average of 291 exposures to a mean of 23 forms of torture. The mean length of their imprisonment was 47 months. The survivors of torture had significantly more symptoms of PTSD and anxiety/depression than the nontortured comparison subjects, although their PTSD symptoms were only moderately severe and their general mood was normal. Despite the severity of their torture experiences, the survivors had only a moderate level of psychopathology.

Prisoner Abuse: Patterns from the Past [Torture]

Prisoner Abuse: Patterns from the Past – http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB122/index.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Is hypnosis a useful interrogation technique?
  • How did the US officially view the use of pain?
  • Where can I find an “interrogator’s check list?”


You may have read about the “CIA torture manuals” from the 1960s and 1980s. This site offers access to two of these:

The KUBARK manual is interesting for its discussion of hypnosis as one non-coercive technique. This section starts at page 95. Another interesting item is the “Interrogator’s Check List” found on pages 105-109 of the manual. There are 50 items to this checklist and about a half dozen items were blanked out.

Skimming through the manual there are no horrifying stories, just sometimes creepy straightforward recommendations about sleep deprivation, pain (or threat thereof) or drugs.

The CIA Human Resource Exploitation Manual is a Reagan era document used to train Latin American military intelligence officers. The introductory material appears to give mixed messages – Torture never really works, but the French shut down an Algerian terrorist group within months with it. There is some hand redaction on the manuals that suggests opposition to torture was weaker in the original edition.

Writers will find these manuals helpful in “setting the scene” for interrogation and torture scenes, military interrogation rooms and possibly in depicting the mindset of the interrogating party’s command structure.
In addition to these manuals, the site also offers some investigatory reports which resulted in some changes to official US interrogation techniques that remained in force before a return to KUBARK style techniques at Abu Gharib in Iraq.

National Security Archive Torture Archive

National Security Archive Torture Archive – http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/torture_archive/index.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What is short shackling?
  • How were lawyers allowed to interact with their clients at Gitmo?
  • How did Communists torture and indoctrinate their prisoners?


This site consists of a documents archive, discussed below and introductory material on US torture, including a video documentary and transcript. The heart of the site is the documents archive.

The Torture Archive is a searchable by a number of fields, including keywords, title, date, origin, from, to, document type, document number, name, location of original, releasing agency and key document.

The Torture Archive is also browsable by titles, creators, recipients, individuals, organizations, dates, Document Type (see especially sworn statements) and key documents.

The Archive’s documents mostly overlap the documents from the ACLU, but this seems like a better search interface. The search tips discussed for the ACLU documents should work here.

Human rights country reports (State Department)

Human rights country reports (State Department) – http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are some real life cases of torture involving electric shock?
  • What are some documented cases of torture from Uzbekistan?
  • What are some countries that torture lawyers or journalists?


Believe it or not, there are government officials in the State Department whose job it is to judge other countries’ adherence to universally acknowledged human rights. From the website:

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are submitted annually by the U.S. Department of State to the U.S. Congress in compliance with sections 116(d) and 502B(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, and section 504 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, “a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights, within the meaning of subsection (A) in countries that receive assistance under this part, and (B) in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations and which are not otherwise the subject of a human rights report under this Act.”

Reports on several countries are included that do not fall into the categories established by these statutes and that thus are not covered by the congressional requirement.

The reports cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The reports are arranged by year, then by country. Each country report has the following sections:

  • Overview
  • Respect for the Integrity of the Person
  • Respect for Civil Liberties
  • Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
  • Official Corruption and Government Transparency
  • Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
  • Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
  • Worker Rights

Each section has fairly specific, if short incident reports, like these incidents of torture from the 2010 reports:

Saudi Arabia

During the year Suliman al-Reshoudi remained in prison on charges of financing and supporting terrorism and was “in and out” of solitary confinement, according to the ACPRA. The royal family-funded NGO National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) confirmed that al-Reshoudi had been indicted and tried. In October 2009 the ACPRA wrote an open letter to King Abdullah highlighting that the 73-year-old al-Reshoudi, a member of the ACPRA, was subjected to “severe physical and psychological tortures,” including tying his feet to a bed frame with two separate chains and being forced into a sitting position throughout the day and shackled at night. The prisoner has been in solitary confinement for three years because of his reform advocacy and activism, according to ACPRA.


On May 27, in Masvingo security agents abducted and tortured two ZINASU leaders, Alec Tabe and Godfrey Kuraune. Tabe and Kuraune were organizing a demonstration against high examination fees at Masvingo Polytechnic. They were picked up by Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) agents, who then tortured them on their chests and genitals with a pair of pliers before leaving them at a nearby police station. Tabe and Kuraune were released after paying an admission of guilt fine to the police.

Probably surprising to some, the State Department is willing to call out US allies on human rights violations, as in the Saudi Arabia example above.

Search Tips:

Here’s another Google trick for writers. You can use the “inurl” operator to search for particular types of abuse, body parts or profession. Use [words of abuse here] inurl:drl/rls/hrrpt in your favorite search engine. For example, using (“electric shock” inurl:drl/rls/hrrpt) at Google produced about 857 results at the end of 2013, including mentions of the use of electric shocks in 2010 in Cambodia, Russia, Venezuela and Pakistan. For some particularly horrific sounding stories from 2010, try the search (nipples inurl:drl/rls/hrrpt). I’d prefer not to discuss them in this book.

Since you are an educated writer, you know that the United States own record on human rights has been controversial since 2001. It is beyond the scope of this book to offer an opinion, but you might find it instructive to take words from stories of documented US abuses (waterboarding, sleep deprivation, sexual humilation) and search them against inurl:drl/rls/hrrpt.

Overall, this will be a good resource for writers of torture and crime stories. It will also be useful for stories set in foreign countries in terms of what sort of actions are likely to draw the unpleasant attentions of the local security authorities.

How often have patients been tortured, and how often is it missed?

How often have patients been tortured, and how often is it missed?- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070871/

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are some barriers to telling others about torture you’ve suffered?
  • What are some of the lingering physical effects of some tortures?
  • What is the Detection of Torture Survivors Survey?
  • How can knowing about a history of torture help doctors provide better care to their patients?


This Medline indexed article from the Western Journal of Medicine reports on a study of foreign born visitors to an outpatient clinic in New York City. It found about 1 in 15 visitors appeared to have suffered torture at some point in their lives. The article goes into some detail about why survivors might be reluctant to talk about their experiences.

Accountability for Torture (ACLU/FOIA)

Accountability for Torture (ACLU/FOIA) – http://www.aclu.org/accountability/

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are some examples of mock executions?
  • Where can I find CIA guidance on torture techniques, including waterboarding?
  • What is horizontal sleep deprivation?


This is a collection of US federal government reports, memoranda and other materials legally obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act.

The material is presented in several different sections, but the most useful to writers will be “Torture Documents” and “Documents Search.”

Torture Documents – listing of document release events and related documents in reverse chronological order.

Documents Search – Search interface to the 100,000 plus documents obtained by the ACLU. The database of documents may be searched by keyword, date range, originating government agency and region (Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Iraq, Global War on Terror), Specific Location (e.g. Baghdad, Abu Gharib). If you’re looking for material for torture scenes, useful searches include: insects, sexual humiliation, naked and mock execution.

This is pretty disturbing stuff. Some of it is objectively documented, others are uncorroborated accusations. Some abuse is attributed to being between detainees themselves, which sounds plausible given rape statistics in US prisons.

In addition to providing material for torture scenes, many of these documents, especially the sworn statements of soldiers, contractors and linguists and others may come in handy for showing how ordinary people handle ambiguity in very dark situations.

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