NY State Legislature to Vote on Bill Prohibiting Doctor Participation in Torture

UPDATE: New York State residents should call their state Senators TODAY to urge them to vote for Senate Bill 4495. In all likelihood when the sun is up we will see the New York Senate vote on whether or not to pass a groundbreaking anti-torture bill, known as the Gottfried Bill, which would prohibit health care professional participation in torture. PHR has been working for years to stop torture by US forces. Especially important to us is ending the use of the healing professions to design, supervise, and implement a regime of abuse intended to break the bodies and minds of detainees.In its editorial for June 25, the New York Times elaborates on the importance of the Gottfried Bill in light of PHR’s latest report, Experiments in Torture.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and Physicians for Human Rights have presented persuasive evidence that the Bush administration used medical personnel to help shape and justify the Central Intelligence Agency’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques. There is no evidence, so far, that medical personnel conducted the torture. Doctors, psychologists and physicians’ assistants helped determine how far a harsh technique — waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, shackling in stressful positions — could go without killing or inflicting extreme pain.They helped plan how various methods could be used in combination, calibrated the levels of pain and monitored the proceedings. Their involvement was apparently intended to provide legal cover for interrogators who, if they were ever prosecuted, could always argue that medical professionals monitored and judged their techniques as safe. The notion of doctors and other health professionals using their knowledge in any way to abuse prisoners is horrifying.Bills to hold health professionals accountable have been introduced in both houses of the Legislature.The Assembly’s bill, which has 45 co-sponsors and could be voted on as soon as Friday, would bar all health professionals licensed in New York from participating, directly or indirectly, in torture or other abuses no matter where they happen. They would have a duty to refuse to participate in torture and also to report abusive practices to appropriate authorities. Violators could be convicted of misdemeanors and subjected to professional misconduct proceedings that could lead to censure and suspension or revocation of a license.

This bill is the first of its kind in the nation and will establish accountability for health professionals who engage in torture or ill treatment of detainees. The Times observes, importantly, that

if interrogation materials are kept classified, it could be difficult for state licensing boards to ascertain what role health professionals might have played — and for accused professionals to defend themselves. It would be far better to conduct investigations and mete out punishments at the national level.

If the Office of Human Research Protections investigates evidence of illegal human subject research and experimentation in response to the complaints filed by PHR, our partners and thousands of individual Americans, we could, in fact, set the stage for truth and accountability on a national scale. Let us today establish the bright line of non-participation of health care professionals in torture and improper treatment of prisoners? If the bill passes, New York would be the model for all other states on ending health professional complicity in torture.

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