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Prolonged Incarceration: Effects on Hostages of Terrorism
  1. Wing Commander Walter Busuttil, MB ChB M.Phil MRCGP MRCPsych RAF (Retd), Medical Director and Consultant Psychiatrist
  1. Combat Stress (Ex-Services Mental Welfare Organization). Tyrwhitt House, Oaklawn Road Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 0BX 01372 841600 dms{at}


Background In recent years there has been an explosion in the publicity surrounding hostage taking. There have been many well-publicized hostage, prisoner of war and politically motivated incarcerations. Increasingly hostages are being paraded on television and sometimes even films of executions posted on the internet. Hostage taking has usually occurred in countries where there has been political strife and war, especially, in recent years, in Iraq and Afghanistan, most recently involving British Royal Navy Personnel in Iran and a British journalist in Palestine.

Aims The aim of this paper is to review the adult literature regarding hostage taking with a view to highlighting the most likely psychiatric disorders that can develop during such an experience. This will aid planning and implementation of hostage rehabilitation and family reintegration post release. This paper will help build insight into the experiences and potential clinical presentations of those held hostage under conditions of torture and threat of death. It presents a framework of needs allowing the planning of rehabilitation including how to manage the family and the media.

Conclusions Further specific research is needed in order to assess the full needs of those released from prolonged incarceration held under threat of death. This will allow better planning for, and delivery of, rehabilitation of those released.

  • Hostage
  • Incarceration
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • reunion
  • rehabilitation

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