Close Gitmo and Close the Torture Loopholes

In today’s New York Times, former Air Force interrogator Matthew Alexander highlights a problem that most Americans have missed: The Obama Administration has not fully outlawed abusive interrogation techniques. Not only must we close Guantanamo Bay, we must close the loopholes that allow torture. The President’s Executive Order a year ago which established the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for interrogations by all U.S. agencies was a welcome step forward—but, as Alexander points out, there are still glaring problems with the Manual (PDF). Specifically, Appendix M to the Manual, entitled “Restricted Interrogation Technique – Separation,” allows interrogation methods that PHR believes can amount to torture and abuse. The Appendix M guidance allows isolation for an initial period of 30 days, followed by indefinite renewals. It also allows sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation.It’s interesting that Alexander says judgments on how long detainees can be isolated humanely “should be determined by medical professionals, not soldiers, or politicians.” 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. PHR staff and NGO colleagues have raised this issue repeatedly with Pentagon officials over the past year. PHR-affiliated physicians have been bringing their expert medical views on this issue directly to the Pentagon and have at least gotten an engaged hearing, although nothing has been done yet to fix the problems.The profound harmful mental health effects of “separation” (an alternative term for isolation) include hallucinations, severe anxiety and a significantly higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders. All eleven former detainees interviewed and medically evaluated by PHR for the 2008 report Broken Laws, Broken Lives reported being subjected to lengthy periods of isolation. The psychological effects of separation and sensory deprivation are documented in PHR’s report Leave No Marks (with Human Rights First) at pages 30-33 and in PHR’s Break Them Down at pages 59-69.The guidance in Appendix M acknowledges the danger of abuse posed by separation, requiring special safeguards and notification prior to its use, cautioning, “[c]areful consideration should be given prior to employing separation as an interrogation technique in order to mitigate the risks associated with its use.” PHR believes that the risks associated with Appendix M are unacceptable. The prohibition against torture is absolute and interrogation guidance must clearly and unambiguously reflect that. U.S. personnel should not be put in a position to engage in potential violations of U.S. and international law and detainees must be afforded the protections enshrined in applicable anti-torture law.It’s time to rewrite the Army Field Manual and eliminate the potential for abuse in Appendix M.

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