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Schlesinger Panel's Report Inadequate: Not Strong Enough on Torture; Comprehensive Investigation Needed

For Immediate Release

The Schlesinger Panel’s report released today is highly critical of top military officials and contributes to understanding the origin of abuses against detainees, but it falls far short of establishing accountability and addressing systemic problems with US interrogation and detention policy, said Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). To the extent that the Panel's mandate does not include officials at the highest levels of government or agencies beyond the Department of Defense, the Panel should have urged that a body be appointed that has the authority, like the 9-11 commission, to conduct an independent and comprehensive investigation.

"The report does not offer clear guidance about securing prisoner rights in the future, nor provide specific guidance for health personnel in prison settings and it appears to condone some of the very policies that led to abuses in the first instance," said Leonard S. Rubenstein, PHR’s Executive Director.

    In particular, PHR regrets that the Schlesinger Panel seems to question the existing prohibition on torture and cruel and inhuman treatment. The Panel's recommendation that "the aggressiveness of interrogation techniques employed must be measured against the value of intelligence sought" is an invitation to precisely the abuses that have been carried out by interrogators at various detention facilities ­ some of which contributed to deaths in detention. The Panel should have called for a full inquiry into ‘stress and duress’ interrogation techniques by all agencies of the government, used in the past and now; and their physical and psychological impact. These techniques include, among others, use of threats, sleep deprivation, prolonged placement in uncomfortable positions, hooding, regulation of diet, sensory manipulation, and others.

    PHR also takes strong exception to the report's suggestion that the "ICRC… needs to adapt itself to the new realities of conflict…" Given the fact that detainees were literally hidden from neutral and confidential ICRC delegates, it seems astonishing that the panel would admonish the humanitarian organization to "adjust itself" to such exigencies.

    PHR welcomes the Panel's attention to the failure of medical personnel to report detainee abuse and its call for more ethics training. Yet the problem of medical complicity in abuse goes far beyond mere failure to report abuses.

    A letter sent by Physicians for Human Rights and signed by prominent doctors, including former Surgeon General David Satcher, to James Schlesinger on August 6 recommended that the independent panel investigate the role of medical personnel in interrogations and whether physicians participated willingly or were required to participate in interrogation tactics, such as stress and duress.

    Suggested questions for the panel to consider included the following:

    • Whether health professionals voluntarily or involuntarily participated in interrogations or assessed detainees before, during or after interrogation for the purpose of aiding the interrogation process through monitoring of diet, sleep or other health matters.
    • Whether health professionals voluntarily or involuntarily shared information about detainees, either orally or in writing (including release to interrogators of medical records and opinions) with interrogators.
    • Whether physicians raised objections to abusive practices or took measures to protect prisoners from them.

    A full investigation is needed and should include interviews with health personnel at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as well as tasking orders, physician reports, and cable traffic related to the health of detainees and the role of physicians in assessments before or after interrogation.

    The Schlesinger Panel’s report released today is highly critical of top military officials and contributes to understanding the origin of abuses against detainees, but it falls far short of establishing accountability and addressing systemic problems with US interrogation and detention policy, said Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). To the extent that the Panel's mandate does not include officials at the highest levels of government or agencies beyond the Department of Defense, the Panel should have urged that a body be appointed that has the authority, like the 9-11 commission, to conduct an independent and comprehensive investigation.

    "The report does not offer clear guidance about securing prisoner rights in the future, nor provide specific guidance for health personnel in prison settings and it appears to condone some of the very policies that led to abuses in the first instance," said Leonard S. Rubenstein, PHR’s Executive Director.

    Letter from Physicians to James Schlesinger, Chair of the Independent Panel to Review Department of Defense Detention Operations

    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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