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PHR Decries House and Senate Passage of Military Commissions Act; President Still Bound by Common Article 3 and Detainee Treatment Act—PHR Vows to Hold Administration Accountable to Geneva Conventions

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) condemned yesterday’s passage by Congress of the Military Commissions Act, which gives President Bush the power to interpret what constitutes a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. The group called on Congress to ensure that the President is held accountable for his obligation under the Military Commissions Act to uphold Common Article 3, the Detainee Treatment Act, and the War Crimes Act—legal standards that should be read to prohibit the "enhanced interrogation methods” used by the CIA.

"Yesterday Congress abdicated its responsibility to ensure the strongest standard of human rights and constitutional protections for those in US custody,” stated Leonard S. Rubenstein, Executive Director of PHR. "Because of the President’s track record of twisting US and international law to justify the use of abusive and illegal CIA interrogation techniques, Congress must now commit itself to hold the Executive Branch accountable for adhering to the Geneva Conventions and the Detainee Treatment Act.”

PHR expressed grave alarm about the Military Commission’s Act’s authorization of separate and lower legal and detainee treatment standards for the CIA, which undercut the higher protections found in the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Army Field Manual. The Army Field Manual prohibits many of the CIA techniques that have been in use in interrogations of detainees in the War on Terror. Some of these tactics that have not been officially disavowed by the Bush Administration include water-boarding, sensory deprivation, facial and abdominal slapping, shackling prisoners to the floor, induced hypothermia and others [See PHR’s statement on the mental and physical health effects of these tactics].

"Detainee Treatment Act and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions states that no outrages on personal dignity and no humiliating or degrading treatment of detainees is allowed,” said Rubenstein. "The CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques are still prohibited. Congress must make it explicitly clear to the President that no reading of the law permits the torturing and abuse of people in US custody.”

Another critical area of concern in the Military Commissions Act is the admission of testimony obtained through coercion, said PHR. By allowing coerced testimony, the Military Commissions Act could encourage further abuse of detainees. The Military Commissions Act also denies the right of habeas corpus to detainees. Health professionals and retired senior members of the Armed Forces have both spoken out strongly against the Military Commissions Act because of its implications for the health of detainees, the negative implications for the rule of law, and its potential impact on US service members and citizens.

"The Military Commissions Act is an affront to the values and codes that guide the professional soldier and the health professional,” stated Brig. General Stephen Xenakis, MD (USA-ret), an advisor to PHR and a signatory of the letter opposing the Military Commissions Bill sent to the President from twenty-eight retired senior officers. "The uniformed military and the health professions have been the strongest advocates for unequivocal adherence to the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It is a shame that the Executive Branch and Congress could not follow their wise council and adopt one, all inclusive standard of conduct and detainee trial and treatment for the Armed Forces and the intelligence services.”

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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