The last British prisoner to be released from Guantamo Bay has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorderby Lucy Maddox / November 3, 2015 / Leave a comment
Shaker Aamer was released to the UK at the end of October, after 13 years detention by US authorities, without charge. The report of the US psychiatrist who assessed Aamer is available online. It directly quotes some of Aamer’s own descriptions of what he alleges happened to him. It is not an easy read.
Aamer claims that he endured years of physical and mental torture including sleep deprivation, isolated confinement, beatings, having water poured over him, being made to stand in stress positions and having guards swiftly change from nice to nasty and back again. Aamer describes one guard who allowed him to sit with him and eat hot food, then described in detail the sexual attacks he allegedly threatened to carry out on Aamer’s five-year-old daughter. It is the sudden kindnesses that Aamer describes as the worst thing: “It destroys you completely,” he says in the report. “You can’t tell apart good and bad.”
One part of the report lists the physical complaints that Aamer has. It is a substantial list, but it is often the less immediately obvious psychological effects which are just as profound, if not more devastating, for individuals surviving torture.
Aamer has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a cluster of symptoms commonly experienced by survivors of torture and war, often situations where personal and physical integrity is compromised and the individual thinks they are likely to die. Studies suggest that torture has a “dose-response effect”, so the more torture that is experienced, the more likely a post-traumatic reaction. Aamer claimed he had endured 13 years of torture.
PTSD involves a triad of symptoms: avoidance, hyperarousal and re-experiencing.
Avoidance is just as it says on the tin: not wanting to remember or talk about what happened to you. The psychiatric report describes Aamer breaking off mid-interview, in the middle of describing severe maltreatment, distracting himself by loudly singing the Eurythmics song “Sweet dreams (are made of this)”.
Hyperarousal means being on really high alert all the time, constantly looking out for danger, being jumpier than usual, or feeling very irritable.
Re-experiencing symptoms include intrusive memories, flashbacks…