Skip to Main Content
Printer Friendly Home > Issues > Torture

Torture

Freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is a fundamental human right established in international law. Since its founding in 1986, PHR's core mission has included investigating and reporting on the devastating consequences of torture on individuals, institutions, and society.

Health professionals can detect signs of physical and mental abuse that are not evident to traditional investigators. Where the torturer aims to silence the victim, PHR's work validates the survivor's voice. Where the torturer hides evidence of brutality, PHR provides physical proof of the violation. And, where the torturer uses the physician as an accomplice, PHR exposes the ethical travesty.

Based on our work, PHR developed the first set of international guidelines for investigating and assessing allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

The Association for the Prevention of Torture compiles the OPCAT Database, which contains comprehensive information on all states parties and signatories to the UN torture prevention treaty - the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

US Torture

In response to US personnel's systematic infliction of psychological and physical torture against detainees, PHR seeks to restore the US commitment against torture, to ensure humane treatment of detainees, and to protect US health personnel from complicity in mistreatment and harm. PHR is also working on legislation in MA and NY to sanction health care providers who participate in acts of torture and ill treatment.

Global Anti-Torture

Despite the absolute prohibition of torture in international law, it continues to be practiced in more than 100 countries, from totalitarian regimes to democracies. Countries frequently justify the use of torture as a necessary means to extract confessions, identify terrorists, and obtain intelligence critical to preventing future violence. Convictions are difficult to achieve because torturers have become adept at inflicting suffering through methods that leave few physical marks. In 1999, PHR co-authored the first set of international guidelines (the Istanbul Protocol) for the medical documentation of torture and its consequences. Since then, PHR has trained health professionals around the world to increase the number of independent, qualified experts capable of providing forensic medical evidence of torture so that victims may obtain justice.

Asylum

Every year, more than 40,000 people flee torture and unbearable persecution in their home country and seek safety in the US. PHR provides asylum seekers with medical and psychological evaluations to highlight the scars left by torture, beatings, sexual violence, slavery, and worse. PHR also protects survivors of torture and persecution by elevating the quality of health care in immigration detention centers, reducing the use of immigration detention, and eliminating arbitrary and unjustified barriers to asylum in the US.

American Psychological Association Maintains Ban on Psychologists at Guantanámo (August 8, 2018)

The American Psychological Association (APA) today voted to keep a ban on military psychologists at Guantanámo Bay prison, maintaining its firm ethical standards at detention sites that violate international law. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) called the vote a resounding victory for human rights.

Letter from former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez urging APA to maintain ban on military psychologists at Guantanamo (August 6, 2018)

Former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Juan E. Méndez has issued a letter to the American Psychological Association (APA) in advance of its August 2018 annual meeting, urging it to reject the proposed amendment to its policy on the role of military and operational psychologists in detention facilities.

PHR Signs Joint NGO Letter to APA Opposing Proposal to Weaken Anti-Torture Ethics Protections in National Security Detention for Psychologists (August 6, 2018)

We, the undersigned human rights and civil liberties organizations, are deeply concerned that the American Psychological Association (APA) is considering rolling back critical protections instituted to safeguard psychologists from complicity in torture and abuse and to facilitate ethical and independent mental health care for detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention center.1 We urge the APA not to take that step.

Letter to APA Opposing Proposal to Weaken Anti-Torture Ethics Protections in National Security Detention for Psychologists (August 6, 2018)

We write to express our deep concern over proposed changes to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) policy on the role of psychologists in national security detention settings. This resolution, scheduled for a Council vote at the August 2018 meeting and closely monitored by the human rights community, would undermine APA’s hard-won position against torture and ill-treatment. We therefore urge you to reject NBI 35B and instead continue on the path of supporting ethical practice and human rights protections for national security detainees.

More Torture News »
More Torture Investigations News »
More Global Torture News »
More US Torture News »

Psychologists: Recognize the Stain that is Guantánamo (August 7, 2018)

The U.S. psychology profession and its largest organization, the American Psychological Association, have been roiled by controversy for more than a decade. What are the proper roles for military and intelligence psychologists in national security interrogations and at Guantánamo and other detention sites that violate international law?

The Facts About Gina Haspel and Why We Should Oppose Her Appointment as CIA Head (May 9, 2018)

On the morning of her confirmation hearing, virtually nothing is known about Gina Haspel, President Trump’s choice to lead the CIA. The agency has kept nearly every detail of her background a secret from the public and from Congress – an effort ultimately overseen by Haspel herself, as acting CIA director. But based on public sources, we know this: Haspel held leadership roles in the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program and, as such, holds the shameful distinction of having helped the United States physically and mentally break human beings.

We have evaluated torture survivors. Gina Haspel cannot head the CIA. (May 7, 2018)

For years, much has been reported on the abhorrent practice of waterboarding during the United States’ “War on Terror” – but, until recently, less has been said about other forms of torture that were perpetrated by Americans on CIA detainees. With the nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director, the spotlight has now been shone on a notorious CIA “black site” prison, the name and location of which are widely known in open sources but which officially remain classified.

10 Reasons Health Professionals Should Oppose Gina Haspel as CIA Director (April 27, 2018)

On May 9, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a confirmation hearing to consider Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to head the CIA. A fair hearing is impossible, given the agency’s campaign to ensure Haspel’s promotion and conceal her involvement in its post-9/11 torture program.

More Torture Posts »
More Torture Investigations Posts »
More Global Torture Posts »
More US Torture Posts »

Urgent Need for Independent International Inquiry on Yemen (August 2017)

PHR urges permanent representatives of member and observer states of the United Nations Human Rights Council to support the creation of an independent international investigation into violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Yemen since the start of the current conflict.

Joint Letter to Mattis, Pompeo and McCabe. Re: US Cooperation with Abusive Allied Forces in Yemen (August 2017)

We, the undersigned human rights, civil liberties, and religious organizations, write to urge you to make public to the fullest extent possible without disclosing sources and methods, any reviews conducted by your agencies into allegations that US-allied forces of the United Arab Emirates and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have been responsible for serious abuses in Yemen.

Nuremberg Betrayed: Human Experimentation and the CIA Torture Program (June 2017)

The CIA’s post-9/11 torture program – conducted at secret prisons around the globe – constituted an illegal, unethical regime of human experimentation. According to a new report released today by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).

PHR Urges Trump to Reject Torture (January 2017)

PHR joins human rights groups in urging U.S. President Donald Trump to refrain from any executive action that would revive the use of torture or any other abusive interrogation or detention techniques.

More Torture Research »
More Torture Investigations Research »
More Global Torture Research »
More US Torture Research »

Featured Expert

Steven Reisner, PhD

Steven Reisner, PhD

Dr. Reisner has worked tirelessly to amend policies of the American Psychological Association that support psychologists’ participation in unethical military and intelligence interrogations in places such as Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and the CIA ‘black sites’. Read More »