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For Immediate Release

President Obama Must Investigate Reports of Detainee Abuse at Bagram Air Base

Cambridge, Mass - 05/11/2010

Cambridge, MA — Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today called on President Obama to investigate BBC News reports that detainees being held by US forces at an undisclosed second detention facility at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, are allegedly being subjected to prolonged isolation, temperature manipulation and sleep deprivation.

Those techniques — whether applied alone or in combination — can qualify as torture under US and international law, as demonstrated in the 2007 analysis by PHR and Human Rights First entitled Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality and numerous US State Department human rights reports.

"These techniques, regardless of which administration employs them, constitute torture," stated Frank Donaghue, CEO of Physicians for Human Rights. "President Obama has said that he has ended the previous administration's use of torture. Until these reports are fully investigated and these tactics are explicitly prohibited, the President's statements ring hollow."

It is not yet clear under what authority, if any, the abusive techniques allegedly used at Bagram were approved, but it is possible that officials were relying on Appendix M of the 2006 Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations (AFM). That appendix authorizes the use of two of the tactics — sleep deprivation and isolation — allegedly being applied to detainees. [pdf] The use of temperature manipulation is prohibited by the AFM. Since the release of the current AFM in September 2006, PHR has led the effort to rescind Appendix M.

"As long as Appendix M remains in effect, there is an asterisk next to the Obama administration's claim that it does not authorize torture," stated John Bradshaw, Washington Director of Physicians for Human Rights. "Appendix M's approval of sleep manipulation and isolation is a green light for the abuse of the health and human rights of detainees in US custody. The abuses allowed under Appendix M — and any others still practiced — must come to an end."

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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