Tag Archive 'barack obama'

Every 9.5 minutes there is one new HIV infection in the US and forty-five new infections worldwide. This is unacceptable.

Earlier today, I joined a group of medical students, health professionals and other concerned citizens to rally for increased funding for HIV/AIDS programs in the US and around the world.

1-2-3-4, AIDS funding, we want more

we chanted while marching toward the Massachusetts State Capitol Building.

5-6-7-8, AIDS funding cannot wait.

And that’s when the torrential rain began. The group clustered together, juggling signs and umbrellas while continuing to chant. We only paused the chanting to take out our cell phones for a group call to Congressional leaders.

This week, Congressional appropriators are in the process of setting funding levels for global and domestic HIV/AIDS programs. Levels under consideration are drastically short of what is needed to fulfill US commitments to fight AIDS at home and abroad. We are already hearing about cutbacks from our partners in Uganda and we must act now to ensure that critical programs are fully funded. The Senate Appropriations Committee is schedule to consider global AIDS funding levels tomorrow, Wednesday, July 8.

President Obama’s new global health initiative calls for $63 billion over six years for all global health programs. Physicians for Human Rights estimates that the HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria programs supported by PEPFAR alone need at least $60 billion over six years. PHR also estimates that a total of at least $95 billion over six years is needed for all of the global health initiatives outlined in President Obama’s plan and to meet all US global health commitments. We have the resources and the responsibility. We don’t have to choose between HIV/AIDS programs and other global health initiatives.

The rally is part of a coordinated effort of dozens of HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations across the country calling on leaders in Congress to strengthen US commitments to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs. From June 30-July 7, activists have called upon Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to increase funding levels. The event today in Boston was co-sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights, the American Medical Student Association, Our Bodies, Ourselves and Health Care for All.

The rally ended with one last round of chanting and a rousing group cheer. As our group began to disperse, the rain stopped and the sun came out.

You can join our efforts today by calling on Congress to fully fund HIV/AIDS programs. Pick up your phone and call Senator Reid, Speaker of the House Pelosi, and members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

(Cross-posted on Health Rights Advocate)

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.

UPDATE: The Kerry-Lugar amendment has passed by unanimous consent! Thanks you for your calls!

Keep up the great work during the Week of Action! Here is a simple and vastly important action to take today:

The Senate Budget Committee has cut President Obama’s FY10 International Affairs Budget request by $4 billion. We cannot allow this to happen! These funds are essential to making sure vital global health programs and humanitarian aid are implemented, including PEPFAR, humanitarian aid to Darfur, as well as other needed development and diplomatic programming world-wide.

Sen. Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Lugar (R-IN) have sponsored an amendment to restore the $4 billion cut from the budget, and we need your help to ensure this amendment passes. Call your Senators today and ask them to support this amendment: voting is expected this afternoon.


Call the Senate switchboard: 202-224-3121 and ask for your Senator’s office. Use the sample script below to encourage your Senator to be a champion for global health and development:

I am calling to encourage Senator XXXX to support the Kerry-Lugar amendment, which would restore the $4 billion cut to the FY10 International Affairs Budget. This budget funds global AIDS programs and humanitarian aid to war torn regions like Darfur, as well as critical development and diplomatic initiatives that will save live and improve America’s relations with the rest of the world. I hope Senator XXXX will co-sponsor the Kerry-Lugar Amendment so the US can keep its promises to the people of the world who need it most. We need to robustly fund PEPFAR, humanitarian aid for Darfur and other key programs which fall under the International Affairs budget.

The global economic crisis has made the problems of the world’s most vulnerable populations even worse. Millions of lives are at risk if this important aid is not available. Please take action today.

Last Tuesday, Salon.com’s Mark Benjamin reported that US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is moving forward with with a commission to investigate torture during the Bush administration.

Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., told Salon Tuesday that his panel would soon announce a hearing to study various commission plans. His staff said the announcement could come as early as Wednesday.

The following day, on Wednesday, Leahy did, in fact, schedule a hearing on commission plans, so the work on forming a commission is proceeding apace.

Senator Leahy’s strongest Senate ally in the call for a torture commission is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)— whose first public announcement of support for a torture commission was at PHR’s National Student Conference earlier this month.

“As a member of both the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee,” Benjamin reported,

Whitehouse is privy to information about interrogations he can’t yet share. Still, regarding a potential torture commission, he told Salon, “I am convinced it is going to happen.” In fact, his fervor on the issue was palpable. When asked if there is a lot the public still does not know about these issues during the Bush administration, his eyes grew large and he nodded slowly. “Stay on this,” he said. “This is going to be big.”

Though President Obama has expressed some hesitation over the idea of a commission, Whitehouse is confident that the President will come around.

Besides, he said, “When push comes to shove, we are the legislative branch of government. We have oversight responsibilities. And we don’t need the executive branch’s approval to look into these things just as a constitutional matter.”

PHR members have played a major role in bringing a commission this close to reality, and we will be calling on members for help as we work to shape the commission to include medical complicity and a focus on the victims of torture.


We are in regular contact with Leahy and Whitehouse staffers and will be active participants in the process going forward.

Further Reading


At the PHR National Student Conference at Brown University, on February 1, 2009, PHR CEO Frank Donaghue gave US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse postcards from PHR students, asking Congress to establish a commission to fully investigate and publically report on US torture. (©Ben Greenberg/PHR)

(This post is slightly adapted from the version coss-posted on PHR’s Health Rights Advocate blog.)