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Physicians for Human Rights Releases Expert Analysis of CIA Torture Report, Calls for Federal Commission to Hold Health Professionals Accountable

Doctors and Psychologists Played Central Role in Torture, More Than Previously Known

For Immediate Release

Health professionals played an essential role at every stage of the CIA’s torture program, committing at least eight violations of ethics and law, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today in an analysis of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report summary on CIA torture. A group of medical doctors, psychologists, and ethicists with expertise documenting torture and working with torture survivors conducted the analysis, which calls for a federal commission to investigate the full extent of health professionals’ participation in the torture program.

The analysis, "Doing Harm: Health Professionals’ Central Role in the CIA Torture Program," can be found here.

"Doctors and psychologists working for the U.S. government engaged in the brutal and systematic torture of detainees," said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s senior medical advisor and an author of the analysis. "Health professionals who participated in these crimes betrayed the most fundamental duty of the healing professions – to do no harm. They must be held accountable in order to restore trust in our professions and ensure this never happens again."

The summary that the committee released is just a fraction of the full report, and contains potential evidence of health professionals’ engagement in unethical human subjects research or experimentation. If confirmed, this unlawful practice could amount to crimes against humanity, which is prohibited by the Nuremberg Code, a set of principles adopted after the revelation of such practices under the Nazi regime.

The categories of potential violations committed by doctors, psychologists, and physician assistants include:

  • Designing, directing, and profiting from the torture program
  • Intentionally inflicting harm on detainees
  • Enabling U. S. Department of Justice lawyers to create a fiction of "safe, legal and effective" interrogation practices
  • Engaging in potential human subjects research to provide legal cover for torture
  • Monitoring torture and calibrating the level of pain
  • Evaluating and treating detainees for the purposes of torture
  • Conditioning medical care on cooperation with interrogators
  • Failing to document physical and/or psychological evidence of torture

The analysis details how health professionals acted in violation of medical and psychological ethics, domestic and international law, and federal research guidelines.

PHR is calling on President Obama to work with the incoming Congress to authorize a federal commission of inquiry into the role of health professionals in designing, monitoring, and attempting to provide legal justification for the CIA’s torture program. Such a commission should have subpoena powers and the ability to refer individuals for criminal investigation and prosecution to the U.S. Department of Justice.

"The profound betrayal of medical ethics uncovered by the Senate’s investigation is reprehensible and demands nothing less than full accountability," said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. "The fact that U.S. taxpayers paid $81 million to the two psychologists’ private firm to carry out the CIA’s torture program should shock the moral conscience of all Americans. A federal commission must examine how health professionals committed, concealed, and attempted to help justify these crimes, and must include criminal prosecution where warranted."

PHR has extensively documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture by U.S. military and medical personnel against detainees in its reports, including Break Them Down, Leave No Marks, Broken Laws, Broken Lives, Aiding Torture, and Experiments in Torture. In recent days, PHR has released a fact sheet on rectal hydration and rectal feeding, a statement about why this is an unnecessary medical procedure, and a statement about the need to hold health professionals involved in CIA’s torture program accountable.

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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