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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.

PHR Condemns Closure of Egyptian Anti-Torture Organization (February 10, 2017)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today condemned the shuttering of Egypt’s premiere anti-torture organization and clinic, the El-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence. On Thursday, Egyptian officials sealed the organization’s office doors after a protracted effort to halt its work.

PHR Alarmed by Proposed Trump Directives on Torture, Refugees (January 25, 2017)

Following today’s release of draft executive orders under consideration by U.S. President Donald J. Trump, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) warned that any attempts to undermine the absolute prohibition against torture, the ban on secret and unlawful detention, and U.S. obligations to protect refugees, particularly those from Syria and the greater Middle East, would be illegal, immoral, and harmful.

PHR Responds to Sessions Waterboarding Comments (January 10, 2017)

If confirmed as attorney general, Sessions will be responsible for upholding the law and must stand firm against any efforts to reintroduce such heinous practices. Any other stance would violate or circumvent the absolute ban on torture.

Physicians for Human Rights Welcomes Preservation of Senate Torture Report (December 12, 2016)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today welcomed the announcement that President Barack Obama will move to preserve the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the U.S. torture program under the Presidential Records Act.

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Trump’s Torture Stance Is Anti-American (February 13, 2017)

President Donald J. Trump continues to insist torture “absolutely works,” a jagged departure from fact, law, and morality. Within days of his inauguration, the White House was already circulating a draft executive order to reopen CIA “black sites” and review currently approved interrogation practices, presumably with a view to fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises to bring back waterboarding and a “hell of a lot worse.”

From Nuremberg to Guantánamo, U.S. Moral Leadership Fades (December 22, 2016)

As a psychiatrist and the child of Holocaust survivors, I struggle to fathom how a doctor — sworn to “do no harm” — could inflict such incredible pain and suffering on another human being. And yet we know today that in the post-9/11 period, doctors and other health professionals were instrumental in designing and implementing the U.S. torture program that destroyed thousands of lives and has undermined the moral standing the United States assumed in the postwar period.

Suffering Ex-Guantánamo Detainees Deserve Medical Care and Support (October 13, 2016)

The conditions at Guantánamo Bay inflicted lasting physical and psychological harm on many men. As a recent New York Times investigation shows, many men detained in CIA and military custody suffer from lasting mental and physical harm as a result of their mistreatment. They have not received support.

CIA Documents Show How Deeply Doctors and Health Professionals Were Involved in Torture (July 25, 2016)

Last month, the CIA released more than 50 declassified documents about the illegal torture program it operated after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Many of them elaborate on the sheer brutality of the CIA’s practices.

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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.

Letter to U.S. Senate on Indefinite Detention (June 2016)

As Congress considers Guantánamo-related provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2017, the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, the Center for Victims of Torture, and Physicians for Human Rights sent a letter to the U.S. Senate calling for an end to indefinite detention without charge or trial.

Truth Matters: Accountability for CIA Psychological Torture (December 2015)

One year after the Senate torture report’s partial release, transparency and accountability – let alone redress to victims – remain stalled. The U.S. government must end the cover-up of torture and ill-treatment and honor its obligation to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

Preliminary Statement on the Hoffman Report (August 2015)

PHR’s statement outlines key findings of the Hoffman report and provides recommendations for accountability, policy reform, and justice.

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Featured Campaign

US doctors 'hid signs of torture' at Guantánamo

US government doctors who cared for the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay deliberately concealed or ignored evidence that their patients were being tortured, the first official study of its kind has found. Read More »

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 »