The Psychological Origins of Institutionalized Torture.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Stoltzfus, Nathan
Pub Date: 06/22/2010
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 4
Topic: NamedWork: The Psychological Origins of Institutionalized Torture (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Haritos-Fatouros, Mika
Accession Number: 230778734
Full Text: The Psychological Origins of Institutionalized Torture. By Mika Haritos-Fa-touros (London and New York: Routledge, 2003. xxv plus 270 pp.).

The Holocaust illustrates the eclipse of the use of imagination to do good by its deployment for evil, as Ellie Wiesel has commented. Here the clinical psychologist Mika Haritos-Fatouros examines human creativity in optimizing evil through a study of the processes by which men became torturers during the Greek military dictatorship of 1967-1974- Relying on records of the trial in 1975 of these Greek perpetrators, she concludes that the torturer is a person who responds normally to abnormal conditions: within certain circumstances even the best of persons could become a torturer.

Upon seizing power in 1967 the Greek military dictatorship established a training camp for turning new military recruits into torturers. Their training emphasized both random cruelty and abject obedience and began with their own abuse, physically and psychologically. "We were like sheep in a pen," one recalled. "They made us turn over a military car and cut off our moustaches. They ordered us to shout slogans like 'Greece of Christian Greeks!' ... Someone asked me what soccer team I supported and when I told him he punched me and ordered me to support another team. Then he asked me again which team I supported and when I said the name of the team he'd told me before, he hit me even harder" (41). Recruits endured mock executions, or might be awakened abruptly, and made to dance until suddenly they were beaten. Some were ordered to measure a building with matchsticks or walk on their knees across the camp to the giant eagle symbolizing the regime. They might be requited to pick Lip mail and cigarette butts from the floor by mouth, eat grass, or imitate sexual intercourse with a doll or lamppost. They went without food or water for long stretches while body functions were treated as a privilege resulting in humiliations.

Subjection to these irrational orders, torture, and humiliations caused the trainees to feel powerless. There soon developed competition as to who could endure the pain and humiliation best.

After three months the trainees were taught specific techniques, numbered according to severity and known under euphemisms such as "tea party" or "tea party with toast." Prison wardens were trusted to torture the regime's prisioners alone but others always tortured in the presence of others. Torturers had a range of motivations including the desire to follow orders and reap the rewards. A case study of one especially effective perpetrator had, since childhood, strongly wished to be a "good boy" and worked as the "tight hand" of military authorities as he had for his father. Obedience and trying to please authority characterized his behavior before as well as during torture (88-89). He was most violent of torturers and yet "seems to have had the most normal development of all" (113). Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the sixteen men trained as torturers the author interrogated were not raised in authoritarian conditions.

For Haritos-Fatouros "torture is generally not an aggressive act, although the torturer may occasionally lose his temper or act out of hatred" (162). Rather she stresses the training and the social context of the torturer: with others looking on, new torturers tried to do it better than others. Propaganda encouraged torturers to believe they were serving a higher cause. Of course there was the fear of becoming the victim, while any thoughts of admiration for the victim were pushed away. Torturers received special status and favors One said the worst part about the end of his two years of service was that all privileges were lost. "For instance, as a persecutor, you could be some place with your girlfriend and you could call a junior to come and fetch you with a car" (53). The balance of these men's motivations for torture, between carrot and stick, is betrayed by their answers to the question of whether they experienced relief when their military service and duties torturing ended: just two of the 16 said yes; most regretted having to leave Athens and their privileges for ordinary lives in their own poor villages.

Haritos-Fatouros positions this range of motivations within the context of obedience and social pressures. Her proposed model revises that of Stanley Mil-gram, based on his obedience studies at Yale University in 1967, by taking account of "two major additional factors" in obedience behavior: the selection of persons to become torturers, and their training. Obedience of the torturer to authority requires that the torturer not "feel any strain that might lead to disobedience." Indeed, "if he were permitted to view his actions with the same repugnance that most observers feel, it would be very difficult for him to continue." Thus her model takes account of the need for torturer to "structure his behavior and justify his actions." Once screened for "traits such as obedience and confidentiality" with the prerequisite intellectual, physical, and political attributes, military recruits underwent training that reduced the level of stress torture would cause a normal person by devices that dehumanized and blamed the victim. In addition, the Greek Junta claimed to represent the higher cause of "Greek Christianity" which expressed religious and national prestige. Bonding with peers, processes of conformity, special in-group language, and a learned sense of helplessness to change this situation also help comprise the cognitive processes by "which the torturer permits himself and is permitted by others to torture" (162-64). In time, the experience of torturing became routine, the "normal" work of a normal person, as he moves over time "emotional turmoil to a kind of automatic proficiency" (186).

Mika Haritos-Fatouros has recognized the importance of torture for the study of collaboration in time to make her results available now when it has become much more widely discussed. Just as most historians insist on understanding Nazism and Auschwitz within history, explaining it in terms they use to explain other histories, Haritos-Fatouros' path breaking work assumes that it is possible to explain all behavior including the torturer's, and that circumstances are the most influential determinant of behavior. Thus we can and must take up the struggle to preempt torture, rather than waiting to eliminate from society those few bad folks, once they have shown they are disposed to do evil. A few bad apples do not endanger others in the barrel so much as a bad barrel turns all the apples bad.

Nathan Stoltzfus

Florida State University
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