Category Archive for 'Custody'

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today released an emergency report which documents and decries systematic human rights abuses in Bahrain. For the first time, the report, “Do No Harm: A Call for Bahrain to End Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients,” provides forensic evidence of attacks on physicians, medical staff, patients and unarmed civilians with the use of bird shot, physical beatings, rubber bullets, tear gas and unidentified chemical agents. The report was featured on several major news outlets including the Associated Press, AFP, BBC, CNN, the Independent, New York Times, and Washington Post.

The report details systematic and coordinated attacks against medical personnel, as a result of their efforts to provide unbiased care for wounded protestors. These attacks violate the principle of “medical neutrality” and are grave breaches of international law which dictates noninterference with medical services in times of civil unrest. Included in the violations were targeted kidnappings, beatings, and threats of rape and killing by security officials. These attacks extended to the patients of medical personnel created an atmosphere of fear which dissuaded patients from seeking care.

The report concludes with policy recommendations for Bahrain, the Unites States and the international community. Among other calls for action, PHR demands for Bahrain to immediately cease and desist all attacks on medical personnel and facilities. PHR also calls on the Obama Administration to lead an international effort to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Violations of Medical Neutrality through the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Physicians for Human Rights joins numerous international NGOs, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders, in supporting United4Iran’s Global Day of Action on June 12, 2010. June 12 events will be occurring in over 70 cities around the world. Go to 12June.org for more information.

June 12 marks the one year anniversary of Iran’s disputed election, which was followed by a government crackdown that saw an increase in arbitrary arrests, torture, and politically motivated use of the death penalty. The Global Day of Action calls attention to Prisoners of Conscience in Iran, and demands their unconditional release.

Since last year’s elections, the human rights situation in Iran has only grown worse. PHR continues to highlight the case of Drs. Kamiar and Arash Alaei, Iranian doctors who have been held by Iranian authorities since June 2008. After being imprisoned without charge for six months, the Doctors Alaei were convicted and sentenced for the charges of being in “communications with an enemy government” and “seeking to overthrow the Iranian government.” Kamiar was given a three year prison sentence, while Arash was sentenced to six years.

The Iranian government used the doctors’ travel to international AIDS conferences as a basis for the charge. Iran cannot continue to imprison medical professions for doing their job. By equating public health diplomacy with treason, the Iranian government poses a threat to all Iranians working for scientific knowledge.

Stand with PHR and the international community to tell the world that “Treating AIDS is not a crime.” Visit iranfreethedocs.org for more information on the Alaeis. And on June 12, please help us remember and defend those in Iran jailed for their humanitarian work.

Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran sent a letter to Iranian authorities on November 25 to ask for a full, transparent and independent investigation into the suspicious death of Dr. Ramin Pourandarjani, a physician who had examined prisoners wounded and killed during the 2009 Iranian election protests. Dr. Pourandarjani, 26, reportedly died of a heart attack in his sleep at police headquarters in Tehran on November 10.

The letter states:

We strongly urge that this investigation be thorough, impartial and independent and we also urge you to ensure that internationally respected forensic experts be invited to assist in such investigations. We respectfully draw to your notice that experienced forensic specialists from Physicians for Human Rights, would be willing to assist in the investigation.

Dr Pourandarjani graduated with distinction from the University of Tabriz and was doing his two-year national service at the Kahrizak detention center in Tehran during the June 2009 protests.

Many protestors were held in Kahrizak where they were allegedly tortured and ill treated. At least three detainees reportedly died of their injuries, including Mohsen Ruholamini, the son of a senior conservative politician. Following his death, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered the closure of Karhizak. Although Iranian authorities have promised to investigate the ill treatment of detainees at Kahrizak, no prosecutions have yet been announced.

The Washington Post reported on November 18:

A parliamentary committee plans to issue a report soon on the Kahrizak prison, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said. The makeshift detention center was closed in July on the orders of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, because of substandard conditions.

The prison became the focus of a rare investigation into police conduct after the death of Mohsen Rouholamini, the son of a former senior Health Ministry official. Authorities said he and two others died of meningitis, but Rouholamini’s father said his son was tortured to death.

Former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, a Shiite cleric, publicly accused security forces in August of having tortured and raped detainees in Kahrizak, an allegation that government officials denied. In a raid on Karroubi’s office in September, security forces confiscated witness reports, names and addresses.

Dr. Pourandarjani had reportedly examined Mr. Ruholamini two days before he died. The doctor reportedly stated to Iranian MPs: “He was brought to me after being physically and severely tortured. He was in a grave physical condition and I had limited medical supplies, but I did my best to save him. It was then that I was threatened by the authorities of Kahrizak that if I disclose the cause of death and injuries of the detainees, I will cease to live.”

Defending colleagues at risk is at the core of PHR’s work. Physicians for Human Rights was founded in 1986 after Dr. Jonathan Fine and a group of US physicians visited Chile to advocate for the release of imprisoned health professionals. Since then, PHR has rigorously defended health professional colleagues and pressured governments for their release, supplementing secondary material with firsthand research and investigation.

Homeland Security official Beth Gibson tried to put a kinder face on immigration detention health care in a November 9 talk to health professionals at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in Philadelphia. Instead of making detention center health staff pre-clear, and therefore pre-justify, every medical procedure that is referred to health professionals outside the prison walls, Homeland Security policy under consideration, according to Gibson, would devise a list of treatments that are “pre-approved.” Only more unusual services — such as CAT scans — would require special advance approval.

This is welcome news from Ms. Gibson, who, as Senior Councilor to the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security John Morton, surely appreciates the human costs of unjustified delays in detention health care that have been reported in the press and by human rights groups.

Still, the policy doesn’t go far enough in the opinion of a number of health professionals who attended the APHA session, chaired by detention health expert Homer Venters, MD, at which Ms. Gibson spoke. One participant called for health professionals to support comprehensive immigration reform, which would decrease the number of persons in the US who are amenable to detention in the first place. Leaders in the Jail and Prison interest group of APHA also called on health professionals to become much more involved in supporting reforms to immigration detention policy.

Washington Director, John Bradshaw, was recently interviewed by PressTV about PHR’s new report, Aiding Torture: Health Professionals’ Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated in the May 2004 CIA Inspector General’s Report.

A team of PHR doctors authored the white paper, which details how the CIA relied on medical expertise to rationalize and carry out abusive and unlawful interrogations. It also refers to aggregate collection of data on detainees’ reaction to interrogation methods. Physicians for Human Rights is concerned that this data collection and analysis may amount to human experimentation and calls for more investigation on this point. If confirmed, the development of a research protocol to assess and refine the use of the waterboard or other techniques would likely constitute a new, previously unknown category of ethical violations committed by CIA physicians and psychologists.

It’s a script for a great horror story — or nightmare. Being:

  1. mentally ill,
  2. indigent,
  3. jailed, perhaps indefinitely, and
  4. without a lawyer or guardian or anyone to speak for you?

And it’s happening right now in America.

Indigent mentally ill persons are placed in immigration detention and ordered deported from the United States every day. They have no right to a free lawyer nor to a court-appointed representative to speak on their behalf. Many have stories like Xiu Ping Jaing: an immigrant who fled human rights abuse in her home country only to be caught in a system dubbed by one expert the “American gulag.”

Other mentally ill people in immigration detention are not immigrants at all: they’re US citizens who, without help, can be detained for years or deported away from family members who were never informed of the action taken and are frantic to find their missing loved ones.

For many human rights problems, the solutions are complex. This isn’t one of them. In July, PHR joined human rights groups across the United States in asking Attorney General Eric Holder to take common-sense steps:

  1. appoint lawyers for mentally ill detainees who can’t afford them,
  2. set up a fair process to determine individuals’ competency to face deportation hearings, and
  3. appoint guardians ad litem for individuals found incompetent.
Note: There is a file embedded within this post, please visit this post to download the file.

In ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the US agreed that

all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person (Art. 10(1)).

The Obama Administration can, and must, act now to ensure that the mentally ill in our immigration jails are treated with the dignity they deserve.

A team of PHR doctors authored the new white paper, “Aiding Torture: Health Professionals’ Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated in the May 2004 Inspector General’s Report.”

Note: There is a file embedded within this post, please visit this post to download the file.

The report details how the CIA relied on medical expertise to rationalize and carry out abusive and unlawful interrogations. It also refers to aggregate collection of data on detainees’ reaction to interrogation methods. PHR is concerned that this data collection and analysis may amount to human experimentation and calls for more investigation on this point. If confirmed, the development of a research protocol to assess and refine the use of the waterboard or other techniques would likely constitute a new, previously unknown category of ethical violations committed by CIA physicians and psychologists.

In a statement today, Scott Allen, MD, PHR’s Medical Advsisor and lead author of the report, said:

Medical doctors and psychologists colluded with the CIA to keep observational records about waterboarding, which approaches unethical and unlawful human experimentation. Interrogators would place a cloth over a detainee’s face to block breathing and induce feelings of fear, helplessness, and a loss of control. A doctor would stand by to monitor and calibrate this physically and psychologically harmful act, which amounts to torture. It is profoundly unsettling to learn of the central role of health professionals in laying a foundation for US government lawyers to rationalize the CIA’s illegal torture program.


Steven Reisner, PhD, PHR’s Psychological Ethics Advisor and report co-author, said:

The required presence of health professionals did not make interrogation methods safer, but sanitized their use, escalated abuse, and placed doctors and psychologists in the untenable position of calibrating harm rather than serving as protectors and healers. The fact that psychologists went beyond monitoring, and actually designed and implemented these abuses — while simultaneously serving as ’safety monitors’ — reveals the ethical bankruptcy of the entire program.

The Inspector General’s report documents some practices — previously unknown or unconfirmed — that were used to bring about excruciating pain, terror, humiliation, and shame for months on end. These practices included:

  • Mock executions;
  • Brandishing guns and power drills;
  • Threats to sexually assault family members and murder children;
  • “Walling” — repeatedly slamming an unresponsive detainee’s head against a cell wall; and
  • Confinement in a box.

Co-author and PHR Senior Medical Advisor Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD, said:

These unlawful, unethical, and ineffective interrogation tactics cause significant bodily and mental harm. The CIA Inspector General’s report confirms that torture escalates in severity and torturers frequently go beyond approved techniques.

Co-author Allen Keller, MD, Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, said:

That health professionals who swear to oaths of healing so abused the sacred trust society places in us by instigating, legitimizing and participating in torture, is an abomination. Health professionals who aided torture must be held accountable by professional associations, by state licensing boards, and by society.  Accountability is essential to maintain trust in our professions and to end torture, which scars bodies and minds, leaving survivors to endure debilitating injuries, humiliating memories and haunting nightmares.

PHR has called for full investigation and remedies, including accountability for war crimes, and reparation, such as compensation, medical care and psycho-social services. PHR also calls for health professionals who have violated ethical standards or the law to be held accountable through criminal prosecution, loss of license and loss of professional society membership where appropriate.