No. 2 - September 2004

A debate about torture?

By René Talbot
Coercive psychiatry and the torture debate in the western world

The emphasis of this edtion of "ZWANG", “Coercive psychiatry is torture”, serves to prove that the following Articles in the statutes of IAAPA and the „Irren-Offensive“ do not only show the subjective view of the psychiatric survivors but also describe a valid "objective" situation:
“We declare as forms of torture all psychiatric persecution, psychiatric incarceration and psychiatrically forced bodily acts and intrusions, such as treatment with drugs, electroshock, psycho-surgery, four point restraint and others.” Since the existence of coercive psychiatry, individuals everywhere in the world have again and again designated these measures as being torture, independently of whether the medical personnel designated the person as being "incapacitated" and the place of these measures a "medical institution" named a "hospital".

With this proof the monstrosity of coercive psychiatry can be grasped conceptually; it means no more nor less than that by applying the analysis of "torture", the whole occupation network of coercive psychiatry becomes criminalized: The psychiatrists who write the expert opinions, their subordinates helpful in the practice of torture; and the judges, who actually use the margin of judgement of the right to illness against the person concerned.

In order to clarify the dimensions of the horror of coercive psychiatry, it is very helpful to consider the current torture debates in the USA and Germany: on the one hand Abu Ghraib as a symbol for apparently dozens of torture centers of the US secret services world-wide and on the other hand the opening of criminal procedures against the vice-president of the Frankfurt police, Mr. Daschner. In both cases the official phraseology seems to uphold the idea that torture (in international expert jargon is: "cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment") is and remains a crime.

In 2002 in the USA the president and the Ministry of Defense got an judicial expert opinion made which tries to divide torture into a permissible and an inadmissible form of intimidation. Here it is interesting to note that the forced administering of "mind altering drugs", even with this attempt to legitimize certain forms of torture, is regularly regarded as an extreme form of torture. See the report of the NY Times on June 27, 2004 "Word for to Word" by Kate Zernike:

In Germany, regarding Mr. Daschners threats of physical abuse to the murderer and kidnapper, the spotlight was more on the circumstances of the torture, namely the false hope at the time of being able to save the life of a child. More important however for our context is the widely spread judicial agreement of the despicableness of the act and the important fact: torture is already torture, even if one is only threatened with it. The option of being consigned to a locked psychiatric ward and the usual coercive treatment there is already coercion, which makes the whole psychiatric system a Gulag, a "dungeon system with torture regime" (Foucault).

Compulsion, the threat of the use of force and applied force, are thus located in the center of the term “torture”. It is this compulsion to extract a confession which makes torture out of coercive psychiatry, the compulsion to extract the confession of recognizing a non-existent "illness" (“disease insight”), the compulsion is thus to extract a slanderous lie. The objection, that if one equates coercive psychiatry with the extreme physical, sometimes even deadly forms of torture, these bad crimes and/or the effect on their victims would inadmissibly be played down, must be strongly opposed. On the one hand torturers use ever cleverer methods, in order to leave no physical traces of the torture after the victim is released, so that those bad crimes can be more intensely pursued yet that is not played down. On the other hand it is precisely the attention on the "unspectacular", almost "harmless" seeming torture which presents a protection from their more drastic forms, because in this way the attention and the recognition of dehumanising actions is sharpened as a whole.

Although now in Germany, as in the USA, the softening of the term “torture” was publicly debated, it was finally also rejected by the White House. Once again that throws more light on the enormous blind spot which prevails in the perception of psychiatric coercive practices. Even without the hope – as with Mr. Daschner – of protecting a kidnapped child from death, people continue to be locked up, threatened, humiliated, cruelly and inhumanely bound to a bed, administered mind altering drugs by force, given forced injections and even forcibly electro-shocked. All of these would be recognised crimes of the state agencies if they were not applied to persons arbitrarily declared to be "mentally ill". Applied to individuals who, 60 years after the end of Nazi rule, thereby - from a legal point of view - still have the status of sub-humans (“untermenschen”).

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