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For Immediate Release

PHR: After Senate Report, Psychologists Who Tortured Must Be Held to Account

Cambridge, Mass - 04/21/2009

In the wake of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) report on detainee abuse, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is calling for the psychologists who justified, designed, and implemented torture for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Department of Defense (DoD), to lose their professional licenses and to face criminal prosecution.

“Long before Justice Department lawyers were tasked to justify torture, US psychologists were busy actually perpetrating it,” said Steven Reisner, PhD, Advisor on Psychological Ethics at PHR. “These individuals must not only face prosecution for breaking the law, they must lose their licenses for shaming their profession’s ethics.”

The SASC report is the latest and most comprehensive account of the Bush Administration’s regime of torture and the central role health professionals played. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Chair of SASC, is calling for the Department of Justice to review the report and pursue any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, a move that PHR supports.

“The Senate Armed Services Committee confirms what we have long known—health professionals were the agents that spread the virus of torture,” said Nathaniel Raymond, Director of PHR’s Campaign Against Torture which brings together thousands of health professionals who oppose torture in all circumstances. “Now is the time for those who violated our laws and our values to be held to account.”

PHR is renewing its call to Congress and the White House to immediately create a non-partisan commission to investigate the Bush Administration’s use of torture, with a specific focus on the role that psychologists and medical professionals played in its design, justification, supervision, and use.

“A non-partisan commission is required if the American people are to know the truth about our nation’s descent into torture,” said John Bradshaw, JD, PHR’s Washington Director. “Congress must move quickly and show the world that we are serious about restoring our reputation as a nation that defends human rights and the rule of law.”

PHR urges human rights supporters to sign its online petition calling for the establishment of a commission to investigate US torture and hold health professionals accountable.

Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture by US personnel against detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase, and elsewhere in its groundbreaking reports, Break Them Down, Leave No Marks, and Broken Laws, Broken Lives. The Senate report confirms the use of abusive and illegal interrogation techniques documented in these PHR reports. These techniques include:

  • beating
  • sexual and cultural humiliation
  • forced nakedness
  • exposure to extreme temperatures
  • exploitation of phobias
  • sleep deprivation
  • sensory deprivation and sensory overload
  • prolonged isolation
  • threats of imminent harm

Physicians for Human Rights has repeatedly called for an end to the use of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) interrogation tactics by US personnel, an end to the use of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT) teams, and called for a non-partisan commission to investigate the US government’s use of torture. Additionally, PHR has worked to mobilize the health professional community, particularly the professional associations, to adopt strong ethical prohibitions against direct participation in interrogations.

[Editors, please note: PHR has four leading experts on torture—physicians and psychologists who have investigated torture by US forces, studied the physical and psychological consequences, and advocated to hold health professionals accountable. To arrange an interview, please contact Jonathan Hutson, jhutson[at]phrusa[dot]org or 857-919-5130.]

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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