Author(s): J. Carey Jackson, MD

Date Authored: December 5, 2013

This clip illustrates how torture can impact a clear narrative of events and make it difficult for clinicians to reconstruct linear timelines.

Clear sequential narratives are helpful in our work to establish causality and so the soliciting of timelines in history taking are habits that we find second nature. If someone cannot reproduce an easy to follow timeline we often describe them as a “poor historian.” In the case of torture, indeed the victim often is a poor historian for the reason that the traumatic events often cause memory loss, especially if head trauma is involved, but head trauma is not necessary.

The extreme emotional and physical states that people find themselves in distort time and at times distort the sequences of events, leaving the historian confused and the clinician frustrated unless they understand what is going on. Documenting the confused narrative can become an important liability if the medical document is going to be cited in legal proceedings of any kind. The credibility of the witness and events often turn on a clear timeline. Any contradictions or lapses in time can make the narrative seem suspect and unreliable. The entire case may be dismissed or the witness found to be not credible if a timeline is submitted out of context and is found to be rambling, inconsistent, or contradictory.