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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 an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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