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PHR Condemns White House Refusal to Repudiate Methods of Torture

PHR and Human Rights First's Forthcoming Report Says CIA Interrogators Risk Prosecution for War Crimes

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said that today’s Executive Order from President Bush on CIA detention and interrogations is more equivocation from the White House. "What is needed now is repudiation of specific brutal and cruel interrogation methods. General statements like this are inadequate, particularly after years of evidence that torture was authorized at the highest levels and utilized by US forces,” said Leonard S. Rubenstein, PHR’s Executive Director.

Recent revelations in Vanity Fair about CIA and DOD use of psychological torture show that the use of these tactics was standardized and pervasive. Techniques reportedly used in the past include waterboarding, sleep deprivation, isolation, death threats, use of dogs, stress positions, and temperature manipulation. "The President’s silence on these techniques amounts to a refusal to eliminate them. By contrast, the Army Field Manual names specific tactics that will not be deployed, such as waterboarding,” said Rubenstein. "The Executive Order continues the Bush Administration’s refusal to acknowledge acts that constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” said Rubenstein.

As the Justice Department prepares legal guidance and the CIA prepares operational guidelines, PHR stated that the only way to restore international credibility and confidence that the US respects human rights is to specifically prohibit techniques that have been used in the past.

Under US law, the severity of physical pain or mental harm caused by an interrogation technique is key to determining whether the technique can be considered torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (CID). A forthcoming report by PHR and Human Rights First demonstrates that the enhanced interrogation techniques are likely to cause "severe” or "serious” physical and mental harm to detainees. As a result, the groups say, officials and interrogators who authorize and participate in interrogations using these techniques face a substantial risk of criminal prosecution under the provisions prohibiting torture and CID in the US War Crimes Act (WCA) as amended by the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) and under the US Torture Act of 2000. "To protect US officials and personnel from potential criminal liability and to ensure that all US personnel adhere to US law, these techniques should not be authorized,” said Rubenstein.

The forthcoming report closely examines the MCA and other US law, informed by medical and psychological knowledge, showing that the authorization of these enhanced interrogation techniques, whether practiced alone or in combination, may constitute torture and/or cruel and inhuman treatment and consequently place interrogators at serious legal risk of prosecution for war crimes and other violations.

The report in Vanity Fair, released July 17, details the key role in detainee abuse played by psychologists, particularly CIA contractors Drs. James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, from US military Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) schools–training programs designed to instruct service personnel in physical and psychological torture resistance. These psychologists were contracted by the CIA to use these SERE techniques on high value detainees–a practice that is unethical, ineffective and illegal. This new information about the alleged involvement of psychologists in the development and implementation of psychological torture techniques for the CIA was preceded on May 18th by similar revelations about Department of Defense (DoD) psychologists using these tactics at DoD sites, according to a recently declassified DoD Inspector General's report.

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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