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For Immediate Release

PHR Supports Leahy Torture Commission

Health Professional Investigation Needed

Cambridge, Mass - 02/10/2009

(CAMBRIDGE, Mass.) -- Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) praises Senator Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) call on Feb. 9 for a bi-partisan commission to investigate the use of torture and other related issues by the Bush Administration. PHR urges Congress to ensure that any commission or accountability mechanism investigating detainee abuse include a sub-committee specifically dedicated to exploring the involvement of health professionals in Bush Administration interrogation policies.

"Senator Leahy's courageous call for a commission to get to the truth about the abuse of detainees by US personnel is a crucial step toward accountability," said Frank Donaghue, Chief Executive Officer of PHR. "It is essential that any such body have the mandate and expertise to mount a full inquiry into what role psychologists, physicians, and other health professionals played in the torture and mistreatment of detainees."

PHR has documented the use of psychological torture in interrogations and has persistently called for an appropriate accountability mechanism, including a non-partisan commission, to investigate and expose evidence of cruel treatment and torture. Although Senator Leahy explained that the primary purpose of a commission would be to learn the truth rather than to prosecute, prosecution should be pursued if the commission uncovers evidence of criminal conduct. Reacting to Senator Leahy's proposal, President Obama said, "My view is also that nobody's above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen."

Senator Leahy's statement supporting the establishment of a commission comes on the heels of comments by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in favor of further investigation of detainee abuse in Guantánamo, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Senator Whitehouse praised Senator Leahy's proposal, noting that "the path to discovery leads through disclosure," and asserting that the commission "is one way to help us better understand the work ahead of us as we look forward to a brighter future." Senator Whitehouse's comments support the idea that President Obama's emphasis on "looking forward" is compatible with and bolstered by a commission. PHR is calling on all members of Congress to move quickly to authorize the commission and equip it with the subpoena power needed for a full inquiry.

"For our nation to fully heal the damage done by the violation of US and international prohibitions against torture, it is critical that the American people finally know the entirety of what was done in their name," Donaghue stated. "True reform of US detainee treatment policy is impossible without first ensuring accountability. Congress must act now to help restore America's reputation as a defender of human rights and the rule of law."

Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological torture by the US during its interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere in its groundbreaking reports Break Them Down, Leave No Marks, and Broken Laws, Broken Lives. The organization has repeatedly called for an end to the use of the SERE tactics by US personnel, the dismantling of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT) teams, and a full Congressional investigation of the use of psychological torture by the US Government, among other recommendations. Additionally, PHR has worked to mobilize the health professional community, particularly the professional associations, to adopt strong ethical prohibitions against direct participation in interrogations.

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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