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PHR Calls on Congress to Reject White House Military Commissions Bill and Amendments to War Crimes Act

Bush Administration Seeking to Legalize Torture by CIA and Grant Immunity for Abusive Interrogations

For Immediate Release

As the Bush Administration continues to pressure Congress to pass the President’s version of the Military Commissions Bill, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) called today on the House and Senate to reject the legislation. PHR condemned the President’s proposal to allow evidence obtained through coercive tactics that amount to torture in detainee trials. PHR called on Congress, particularly Senate leadership, to pass a Military Commission Bill that reaffirms the United States’ adherence to the Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention Against Torture, and the McCain Amendment, which establishes an absolute ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of all detainees in US custody or control by any US personnel.

"When Congress passed the McCain Amendment over eight months ago,” said Leonard Rubenstein, Executive Director of PHR, "it did so over the strenuous objection of the White House, which first sought to defeat it and then sought to exempt the CIA from its reach. Now the Administration is trying out a new tactic to achieve the same ends and Congress must again reject White House efforts to undermine the US commitment against torture and abuse.”

Congressional leadership must affirm that testimony obtained through coercion, as is the case in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, is not admissible in military commissions, PHR said. The Senate also should accept no amendment to the War Crimes Act that provides retroactive immunity for military and intelligence personnel who have engaged in and authorized torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, particularly Common Article 3.

"Not only does the President want Congressional approval to use tactics that are currently illegal; he wants to ensure that the officials who authorized the use of these tactics five years ago will not be held to account," said Rubenstein. "The President’s proposal undercuts the Pentagon’s decision last week to hold its personnel to a standard of conduct that is in keeping with the best traditions of the US military.'

The White House’s proposal would actually encourage Central Intelligence Agency interrogators to use abusive methods that have long been prohibited by US law and are now explicitly banned from military interrogations by the new Army Field Manual governing the treatment of detainees, said PHR. The President’s bill would give military judges broad discretion to hear evidence produced through torture or coercion, giving CIA interrogators, who are not bound by the Army Field Manual, an incentive to use harsh and otherwise illegal tactics. Indeed, the President’s proposed rules delete any reference to evidence obtained through "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" altogether.

"Speaking as a retired officer in the US Army, it is deeply dismaying to see the Commander in Chief seek authorization for a CIA interrogation regime that violates the oath our military service members take to uphold the Geneva Conventions and Uniform Code of Military Justice,” stated Brigadier General Stephen Xenakis, MD, an advisor to PHR. "But speaking as an American citizen, the fact that the President would also seek immunity for those who have committed abuses is an affront to his oath to defend the Constitution.”

"The President’s ‘no holds barred’ approach to detainee treatment makes our country less secure and would instantly reverse over half a century of essential military doctrine,” Xenakis added, "When releasing the Army Field Manual last week, Lt. General Kimmons, the Deputy Army Chief of Staff for Intelligence, has clearly stated that abusive interrogations do not yield results and undermine the professionalism of our armed forces. It is time for the President to do the same.”

While PHR remains concerned about certain tactics authorized by the Army Field Manual and is seeking further clarity on the permissibility of others, such as sleep deprivation, the use of isolation, and sensory overload, the group has praised the Pentagon’s revised Army Field Manual for its explicit adoption of the Geneva Conventions and the McCain Amendment.

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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