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New Bipartisan Report Supports PHR’s Position on Torture of Detainees

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) applauds the publication today of a bipartisan independent report that supports PHR’s longstanding contention that the interrogation and treatment of many detainees in US custody since 9/11 amounted to torture.

An 11-member task force convened by the Constitution Project writes in a 577-page report released today that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” and that the decision to do so was made at the highest levels of the Bush administration. There was “no justification” for such brutality, which had little or no intelligence value but which damaged the nation’s standing and potentially jeopardized the safety of US captives, says the task force report.

“PHR has long contended that interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and stress positions did in fact constitute torture,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “We are gratified that a highly respected bipartisan panel led by two former members of Congress uniformly concurs. Their report should put to rest any lingering doubt about the severity of the abuse that took place at Guantánamo Bay and other US detention facilities.”

The report also highlights PHR’s position that physicians and other health professionals who participated in interrogations violated their professional ethics. The task force also strongly condemned the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike, a practice PHR has long opposed as abusive and in some cases amounting to torture.

Whether treatment of detainees amounted to torture is of more than academic interest. As a signatory to the international Convention Against Torture (CAT), the United States is obligated to promptly investigate allegations of torture, hold perpetrators accountable, and make reparations to torture victims.

PHR and other rights organizations have long called on the Obama administration to investigate such allegations, but President Obama has declined to do so, saying he wants to focus on looking ahead, not behind.

“The time is long overdue for President Obama to recognize that, unless past abuses are fully investigated and punished, the likelihood of similar abuses sometime in the future remains high,” McKay said. “Congress and the president can no longer continue to suppress the details of this dark stain on our nation’s history. Only after full disclosure and accountability can we then ensure that proper safeguards are in place to prevent similar abuses.”

PHR recommends the following steps along that road:

  • The report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on interrogation by the Central Intelligence Agency should be declassified so that the full scope of CIA abuses becomes public.
  • The Justice Department should initiate an investigation into alleged torture of detainees, as required by international treaty obligations. Detainees found to have been tortured or abused should be compensated, and those released after long detention should be given appropriate support in rebuilding their lives.
  • Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, along with any other documents that could be construed as authorizing interrogation techniques that constitute torture, should be revoked immediately. 

“On a day when we in the Boston area are coping with fear and anger in the aftermath of yesterday’s explosions at the Boston Marathon, we cling to the ideals that our nation’s founders fought to obtain for us more than two centuries ago,” said McKay. “Where we have fallen short, it is crucially important that we acknowledge those lapses, understand how they happened, and absorb their lessons before going forward. As the task force report suggests, naming the torturers, calling them to account, and compensating the tortured would go a long way toward restoring those high ideals.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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