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Those Who Authorize and Use CIA "Enhanced" Interrogation Tactics Risk Criminal Prosecution

Landmark Report: Techniques Previously Authorized for CIA Use — Not Ruled Out by President's CIA Executive Order — Likely Violate U.S. Law

For Immediate Release

A landmark report released today by two leading human rights groups concludes that U.S. officials who authorize or use "enhanced" interrogation techniques risk violating U.S. law and could face criminal prosecution. The CIA had suspended its interrogation program in 2005 out of reported concern about its legality. On July 20, President Bush issued an Executive Order that he claimed would allow that program to resume.

The unprecedented analysis by Human Rights First and Physicians for Human Rights combines medical and legal expertise to comprehensively examine ten techniques widely reported to have been authorized for use in the CIA's secret interrogation program, including sleep deprivation, simulated drowning, stress positions, beating, and induced hypothermia. The Report —"Leave No Marks: 'Enhanced' Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality"— demonstrates the mental and physical consequences of the use of these techniques, and its title refers to the techniques' intended design, which is to inflict psychological trauma and pain without leaving physical scars. U.S. law requires an assessment of the physical and mental impact of an interrogation method to determine its legality. The report concludes that each of the ten tactics is likely to violate U.S. laws, including the War Crimes Act, the U.S. Torture Act, and the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.

"These 'enhanced' interrogation techniques can cause severe and often irreversible harm to their victims," said Dr. Scott Allen, who co-authored the report, and is an Advisor for Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and Co-Director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University. "The report's full and independent review of the medical literature and case studies concludes that these methods are likely to cause significant physical and mental harm to detainees, and they should be immediately and explicitly prohibited by the Bush Administration and by Congress," he added.

Defenders of the use of severely coercive treatment in interrogations have argued that "enhanced" interrogation techniques are "aggressive" and "tough," but not particularly harmful. But the report reviews an extensive body of medical and psychological literature and applies the experience of experts who have treated victims of torture and abuse to show that although "enhanced" interrogation techniques may not result in visible scars, they often cause severe and long-lasting physical and mental harm. The use of such methods can and does frequently result in posttraumatic stress disorders, depressive disorders and psychosis. The common use of physical and emotional abuse in combination with one another "compounds their devastating psychological impact," the report finds.

In conducting the medical analysis, Physicians for Human Rights drew upon experts in the physical and psychological effects of torture. Human Rights First's legal analysis applied its expertise with the relevant statutes, treaties, case law, and legal history. The report's conclusions are based on extensive research in both fields and have been reviewed by widely respected medical experts.

"Administration lawyers may try to convince interrogators that the secret interrogation techniques authorized by the President are lawful because they cause no 'permanent damage.' But interrogators shouldn't buy it," said Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of Human Rights First. "Stress positions, prolonged isolation, sensory bombardment, mock-drowning and other such abuses can cause serious physical and mental pain. They need not inflict permanent damage in order to violate the law and potentially result in very serious criminal sanctions."

Massimino added: "Authorizing such abuses as consistent with the Geneva Conventions has profound — and dangerous — consequences for our own military, now and in future wars. The Administration's argument that doctors will oversee the program to ensure that interrogators don't go too far gives new meaning to the term 'calculated cruelty.'"

The report urges the US government to "refrain from repeating the mistake of allowing the euphemistic descriptions of interrogation techniques to blur the line between permissible and impermissible treatment." It calls on the government to instead adopt the recommendations it sets forth as necessary steps to creating "a single standard of humane treatment."

The report calls on the executive branch to:

  • Prohibit the "enhanced" interrogation techniques, in order to protect U.S. officials and personnel from potential criminal liability and to ensure that all U.S. personnel adhere to U.S. law.
  • Prohibit the use of any other method that, alone or in combination with other interrogation methods, presents a significant risk of causing serious or severe physical and/or mental pain or suffering.
  • Instruct all U.S. interrogators in effective, legal, non-harmful methods of interrogation.
  • Declassify and release all documents, from all relevant U.S. agencies, which contain information on U.S. interrogation policy and practice, including but not limited to the "enhanced" interrogation methods.

The report urges the U.S. Congress to:

  • Clarify existing language in the MCA, which under a reasonable interpretation currently prohibits the use of the "enhanced" techniques, by explicitly listing the techniques, forbidding them, and making clear that they remain criminal.
  • Establish a single standard for detainee treatment and interrogation practices to be followed by all U.S. personnel, including CIA personnel.

The Administration's CIA Executive Order, issued on July 20, undermines the attempts of the McCain Amendment and the Pentagon's revised Army Field Manual governing interrogations, issued in September 2006, to establish a single standard of humane treatment for detainees. By refusing to clearly identify abusive techniques and to take them off the table for use by the CIA, the Executive Order effectively leaves the decision of when, how and upon whom to use these tactics to the discretion of the CIA Director.

The report was reviewed by:

  • Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD, Senior Medical Advisor to PHR and lead author of the UN's Istanbul Protocol for Assessing Victims of Torture;
  • Uwe Jacobs, PhD, Director, Survivors International;
  • Allen Keller, MD, Program Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture;
  • Christian Pross, MD, Center for the Treatment of Torture Victims, Berlin, Germany;
  • Stephen Xenakis, MD, Brigadier General (Ret), U.S. Army;
  • Farnoosh Hashemian, MPH, Research Associate, PHR;
  • Frank Davidoff, MD, Editor Emeritus, Annals of Internal Medicine
  • Justice Richard Goldstone, Justice of the South African Constitutional Court, Retired;
  • Leonard Rubenstein, JD, President, PHR;
  • John Bradshaw, JD, Director of Public Policy, PHR;
  • Hina Shamsi, JD, Deputy Director and Senior Counsel to HRF's Law and Security Program;
  • Devon Chaffee, JD, Kroll Family Human Rights Fellow in HRF's Washington office; and
  • Elisa Massimino, JD, Washington Director, HRF.

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C.

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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