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For Immediate Release

Senate Armed Services Committee Finds Highest Levels of Bush Administration Authorized Abusive Interrogations

Cambridge, Mass - 12/12/2008

Yesterday the Senate Armed Services Committee released the compelling conclusions of its lengthy inquiry into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. The Committee's findings demonstrate that abusive interrogation techniques were explicitly authorized at the highest levels of the Administration. Physicians for Human Rights applauds Senator Levin's commitment to exposing the origins of and authorization for the use of abusive interrogation techniques and urges the establishment of a robust accountability mechanism for these abuses, which violate U.S. and international law. "This powerful report should finally put to rest the notion that abuse was isolated and carried out by a few 'bad apples'" said PHR CEO A. Frank Donaghue. "The report convincingly documents the participation of senior officials in discussions about abusive interrogation techniques."

The Committee's conclusions bolster those found in three PHR reports on coercive interrogation [link on side of screen], which expose that health professionals were centrally involved in the design and implementation of brutal interrogation methods derived from techniques used to train U.S. personnel to resist torture in the event of capture known as Survival, Resistance, Training and Escape (SERE). Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological torture by the US during its interrogations of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The organization has repeatedly called for an end to the use of the SERE tactics by US personnel, removing health professionals from the design and implementation of interrogation, and a full Congressional investigation of the use of psychological torture by the US Government.

PHR's work reveals the profound and long-lasting harm to detainees of aggressive interrogation, many of whom have never been charged for a crime. The victims of abuse and their families must be afforded reparations, access to psycho-social services and an apology. As Senator Levin stated in his press release today, "this chapter in our history . . . has so damaged both America's standing and our security. America needs to own up to its mistakes so that we can rebuild some of the good will that we have lost."

The report reinforces PHR's call for an appropriate accountability mechanism, such as a non-partisan commission equipped with subpoena power, to expose and investigate evidence of torture and cruel treatment, and make recommendations on prosecutions for any crimes committed. In addition, the committee should establish a specific subgroup to address the participation of health professionals in detainee abuse.

Any accountability mechanism established, either by Congress or the incoming Administration can usefully build its inquiry on the SASC report. The report reveals how U.S. personnel distorted SERE program methods and used them offensively against detainees. These methods of psychological torture, included stripping detainees, subjecting them to stress positions and the use of dogs to instill fear, are a violation of international and domestic prohibitions against torture and cruel treatment. PHR calls upon the new Administration to act immediately to take steps declined by the current Administration to outlaw illegal coercive interrogations across all branches of military and intelligence agencies.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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