For Immediate Release
Cambridge, MA — Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes actions taken which demonstrate that the Obama Administration is committed to ending the use of abusive interrogation techniques and to initiating a process of holding accountable those responsible for the regime of torture. However, PHR urges the Administration to pursue any investigation up the chain of command to those officials who authorized and supervised the use of illegal techniques.
"Attorney General Holder's decision to appoint a special prosecutor to re-examine a number of cases of alleged torture and abuse is another sign that the Administration's 'don't look back' policy is being reassessed," said Frank Donaghue, PHR CEO. "We first saw this welcome reconsideration in July when the President ordered his national security team to gather the facts about the alleged Dasht-e-Leili massacre in Afghanistan in 2001."
The CIA Inspector General's report released on August 24 details many of the potentially criminal abuses perpetrated by CIA interrogators and provides clear justification for the Attorney General's decision to appoint a special prosecutor to review these alleged abuses and to determine the degree to which full investigations are warranted. "The preliminary review by the special prosecutor should only be seen as a first step to eventual investigation not only of those who conducted the actual interrogation but of those higher level officials who designed, authorized, and supervised the global torture regime," said Donaghue. "Any investigation must also look at the role health professionals played in facilitating torture."
Some of the disturbing new information in the Inspector General's report details techniques, such as mock executions that have serious consequences to mental and physical health. "Mock executions can have serious long-lasting psychological impact," said Scott Allen, MD, PHR Medical Advisor. "They meet the legal definition for torture under U.S. law and their use certainly should shock the conscience of any civilized society."
Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture by US personnel against detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase, and elsewhere in its three groundbreaking reports, Break Them Down, Leave No Marks, and Broken Laws, Broken Lives. The CIA Inspector General's report confirms the use of abusive and illegal interrogation techniques documented in these PHR reports. The PHR reports also document how the use of illegal, but authorized, techniques led to the use of extreme unauthorized techniques which clearly moved into the realm of torture.
PHR believes the establishment of a new High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), as recommended by the Task Force on Interrogations and Detention represents a potential improvement in the oversight of US intelligence interrogation practices, with overall responsibility for the program resting with the National Security Council. While the use of the Army Field Manual (AFM) as a uniform standard for all U.S. personnel will eliminate many of the abuses of previous years, PHR believes that Appendix M to the AFM will still allow for potential abuse. Appendix M to the Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations No. 2-22.3 (AFM) (PDF) provides guidance of the use of the "Restricted Interrogation Technique – Separation."
PHR believes that methods used to implement this technique under the guidance of Appendix M can amount to torture and abuse. Specifically, the guidance allows isolation for up to 30 days, sensory deprivation and sleep deprivation. PHR has documented the severe harmful and lasting psychological effects of these techniques, and has called for repeal of Appendix M since the current version of the AFM was issued in September 2006.
"The language of Appendix M itself acknowledges how risky these techniques can be and tries to build in safeguards to prevent abuse" said PHR Washington Director John Bradshaw. "But we should not have interrogators trying to calibrate the effects of sleep and sensory deprivation when these techniques can so easily slide into abuse and even torture."
PHR also renews its call to Congress and the White House to create immediately a non-partisan commission to investigate the Bush Administration's use of torture, with a specific focus on the role that psychologists and medical professionals played in its design, justification, supervision, and use. Such a commission would complement the investigation by the Department of Justice Special Prosecutor and would have a broader mandate to look at how the entire interrogation and detention process went off track.
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.