We call on the President of the United States to establish an independent, non-partisan commission to examine and report publicly on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees in the period since September 11, 2001. The commission, comparable in stature to the 9/11 Commission, should look into the facts and circumstances of such abuses, report on lessons learned and recommend measures that would prevent any future abuses. We believe that the commission is necessary to reaffirm America’s commitment to the Constitution, international treaty obligations and human rights. The report issued by the commission will strengthen US national security and help to re-establish America’s standing in the world.
(Statement from the co-sponsors of www.commissiononaccountability.org)
PHR has once again joined with leading human rights organizations and has renewed its call to establish a commission investigate the torture and abuse of detainees. The quotation, above, is our joint statement.
In light of overwhelming evidence that the Bush Administration’s legacy of torture originated with health professionals, who were deeply involved in facilitating and implementing the torture regime, the only way to look forward as a nation committed to our founding principles embodied in the Constitution is to demand accountability.
The newly declassified Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) report (PDF 15MB) is one of several documents released recently supporting the undeniable legal and ethical obligation to fully investigate and prosecute torture and to sanction violations of medical and psychological ethics:
- The International Committee of the Red Cross report (PDF)provides shocking examples depicting health professionals participating in torture.
- The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos show that manipulation of law to conform to desired policy outcomes were directly informed by the advice of health professionals.
- The SASC report provides further evidence that the Bush Administration, in developing its torture program, turned first to health professionals and relied on advice from psychologists that supported a policy of exploitation. The Bush Administration ignored the clear warnings that employing “aggressive techniques” would be illegal and ineffective. The report shows that long before the (OLC) memos were produced to provide a “golden shield” for torture, there were red flags cautioning that using adapted SERE techniques might be illegal and warning that information elicited from SERE techniques might be unreliable and inaccurate. A SERE trainer acknowledged: “[w]e have no actual experience in real world prisoner handling.”
Health professionals complicit in designing and implementing torture abandoned their ethical duties to aid the national security apparatus and broke the law. The SASC report confirms that the process of designing an abusive interrogation program began in December 2001 and that torture was authorized at the highest levels of the Administration. The report clarifies how Secretary Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 memo authorizing interrogation techniques that constitute torture, spread from Guantanamo to Iraq and Afghanistan. That memo was based on the advice of psychologists and military behavioral scientists.
To date, no comprehensive investigation has examined the role of health professionals in designing, aiding or failing to report abusive interrogation techniques. Physicians for Human Rights supports the recommendation made by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Chair of SASC, to Attorney General Holder: look at the evidence and pursue accountability; “we must acknowledge and confront the abuse of detainees in our custody.”
The American Psychological Association has never comprehensively addressed the troubling ethical entanglement of some members of its leadership in the intelligence apparatus. In January 2005, the American Psychological Association issued its Report of the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security, which seeks to legitimize the involvement of psychologists in interrogation?—?a role that is fundamentally inconsistent with ethical principles and both US and international law. In concluding that psychologists have a central role in interrogations, the Task Force gave short shrift to the ethical and human rights implications of coercive interrogation practices used by US forces that relied on psychological expertise. Nor has the APA sanctioned its members responsible for designing and implementing torture. PHR, with colleagues from the University of Cape Town, has documented the conflicts encountered when health professionals are under pressure to use their skills to serve state interests at the expense of human rights. The findings were published in the report Dual Loyalty and Human Rights in Health Professional Practice: Proposed Guidelines and Institutional Mechanisms.
The United States and the military in particular, has been a leader in defining and establishing the applicable legal norms for individual criminal responsibility for war crimes, including the elimination of defense of superior orders and liability for heads of state. It is undeniable that crimes have been committed; as a nation, we must not turn our backs and walk away.
Unless the President and Congress act to create an accountability mechanism to address the authorization for and implementation of detainee abuse, the US will remain in violation of its clear legal obligation to investigate and prosecute torture. These techniques, which undermined our national security and may put American troops at risk, must not go unpunished. The integrity of medical and psychological ethics must be restored through a full airing of the facts and health professionals complicit in torture must lose their professional licenses.