Last week in the United States an army sergeant was accused of waterboarding his own four-year-old daughter after she refused to recite her ABCs. This story emerged as the Guardian reported that during a time of critical stress for military hospitals, there was little concrete information about soldiers' mental health.
This difficulty of collecting statistics about post-traumatic stress disorder - the likely cause of such dysfunctional behaviour as waterboarding your own daughter - is a critical deficit in addressing the human impacts of the long wars that the UK is currently engaged in.
While stories of soldiers surviving horrific physical injuries and recovering from the loss of limbs attract most attention, we must not forgot the far more subtle but equally devastating impacts that war wreaks on soldiers' minds. Perhaps controversially, I believe that those who have engaged in acts close to or constituting torture must be at the front of the line when it comes to treatment when they return to civilian life.
To do otherwise would be compounding failures already made. In his history of soldiers and psychiatrists, Ben Shephard identified a "reoccurring cycle within war neuroses" with the problem "first denied, then exaggerated, then understood, and finally, forgotten". The mental strains of fighting counterinsurgency wars, where every object or person represents a potential deadly threat, are clearly not yet fully understood.
It is within these conflicts that torture abuses have occurred. Whether torture was institutional in nature is highly contested but it seems from the evidence of individual cases such as Binyam Mohamed and Baha Mousa, and more systemic failings such as Abu Ghraib and Bagram airbase, that the problem goes beyond a few "bad apples" operating off the grid.
Simon Jenkins recognised the "banality of evil" as being responsible for these abuses when he wrote that "even the nicest people go to the bad when caught up in ill-conceived, illegal or unjust wars". In 2008, in a repeat of the infamous Milgram test, US researchers found that people were still willing to inflict pain on each other if told to by authority figures.
In his Moral History of the 20th Century, Jonathan Glover explained how "military training has to make people do things which they would not do in civilian life", eroding "civilian identity and values". Any return to normal life therefore involves making the difficult transition back from combatant to civilian.
Today's wars "among the people" make the experiences endured by soldiers that much more complex -- and, therefore, that transition that much harder.
Joanna Bourne wrote in her Intimate History of Killing that combatants insist on forming emotional relationships not only with their comrades but with the enemy.
Stockholm syndrome describes the seemingly bizarre phenomenon where hostages begin to identify with and grow sympathetic to their captor. Less well known is Lima syndrome where abductors develop sympathy for their hostages. It was named after events at the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru, when in 1996 hundreds of people attending a party were held hostage by militants. Days later, the abductors had set free most of the hostages, including the most valuable ones, supposedly due to sympathy forged with their detainees.
The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture is a UK-based charity dedicated solely to the treatment of torture survivors. On its website it describes the idea that torture only has lasting effects for the victim as a myth, stating that torture has a
metastasising effect on the lives of any of those who it touches - including the perpetrators ... the effects of torture can last a lifetime. In addition to post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares and insomnia, torture survivors can end up avoiding interacting with other people and distancing themselves from the outside world.
As our understanding of the complexities of the mental injuries of war increases so does our responsibility to care for those affected. As Operation Moshtarak continues, the likelihood of British casualties increases. Back in the UK there are expectations that we have the systems in place to care for those who are wounded in action. While higher payouts for wounded British troops is a welcome move, PTSD needs to be treated as an injury and it needs to be taken far more seriously, with those who have been at the forefront of the darker side of our wars given the highest priority.