Strained legal rationalizations for torture techniques should provide no cover for health professionals who helped design and implement them
Cambridge, MA (Vocus) April 17, 2009
The newly released Bush Administration's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos are detailed confirmation of the intimate involvement of health professionals in designing, supervising and implementing the CIA's "enhanced" interrogation program. According to analysis by Physicians for Human Rights, tactics used by psychologists and supervised by medical personnel, including physicians, clearly constituted torture and a grave breach of medical ethics. The memos specifically reference psychologists from the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training program, medical experts, and consultations "with outside psychologists" and "with a number of mental health experts."
"The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology," stated Frank Donaghue, Chief Executive Officer of PHR. "All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again."
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), in collaboration with Human Rights First, published a 2007 study, Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techiques and the Risk of Criminality, conclusively showing the illegality of, and long-term mental and physical harm caused by, these tactics.
"Strained legal rationalizations for torture techniques should provide no cover for health professionals who helped design and implement them," stated John Bradshaw, Washington Director of PHR. "The White House and Congress must work together to ensure public accountability for these crimes and violations of medical ethics."
Further investigation of the role of health professionals in the subsequent implementation of these illegal techniques, as called for in the memos, must be conducted by an independent commission which includes a specific focus on health professional complicity.
"These techniques rise to the level of war crimes and can cause catastrophic physical and mental suffering, lasting for years after an individual has been subjected to them," stated Dr. Scott Allen, MD, PHR Medical Advisor and Co-Director of the Brown University Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights. "The involvement of health professionals in techniques they should have known would result in severe pain and harm is not only an egregious violation of medical ethics, it is malpractice."
PHR has long contended the techniques authorized in these memos were developed directly from the military's SERE training program. The memos conclusively show that the legal justifications provided for the interrogation techniques were developed after the decision to proceed with the SERE techniques had already been made at a policy level.
"The timeline seen in these memos supports what other investigations have shown," said Bradshaw. "A decision to use the SERE techniques was made at the White House level and the OLC memos were written after the fact to provide legal cover. Rather than serving as a shield to protect our values, the law was used as a fig leaf for torture."
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. PHR was a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
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