Posts Tagged ‘break them down’

PHR: After Senate Report, Psychologists Who Tortured Must Be Held to Account

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts:
Jonathan Hutson
jhutson [at] phrusa [dot] org
Tel: (617) 301-4210
Cell: (857) 919-5130

In the wake of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) report on detainee abuse, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is calling for the psychologists who justified, designed, and implemented torture for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Department of Defense (DoD), to lose their professional licenses and to face criminal prosecution.

“Long before Justice Department lawyers were tasked to justify torture, US psychologists were busy actually perpetrating it,” said Steven Reisner, PhD, Advisor on Psychological Ethics at PHR. “These individuals must not only face prosecution for breaking the law, they must lose their licenses for shaming their profession’s ethics.”

The SASC report is the latest and most comprehensive account of the Bush Administration’s regime of torture and the central role health professionals played. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Chair of SASC, is calling for the Department of Justice to review the report and pursue any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, a move that PHR supports.

“The Senate Armed Services Committee confirms what we have long known—health professionals were the agents that spread the virus of torture,” said Nathaniel Raymond, Director of PHR’s Campaign Against Torture which brings together thousands of health professionals who oppose torture in all circumstances. “Now is the time for those who violated our laws and our values to be held to account.”

PHR is renewing its call to Congress and the White House to immediately create a non-partisan commission to investigate the Bush Administration’s use of torture, with a specific focus on the role that psychologists and medical professionals played in its design, justification, supervision, and use.

“A non-partisan commission is required if the American people are to know the truth about our nation’s descent into torture,” said John Bradshaw, JD, PHR’s Washington Director.  “Congress must move quickly and show the world that we are serious about restoring our reputation as a nation that defends human rights and the rule of law.”

PHR urges human rights supporters to sign its online petition calling for the establishment of a commission to investigate US torture and hold health professionals accountable.

Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture by US personnel against detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase, and elsewhere in its groundbreaking reports, Break Them Down, Leave No Marks, and Broken Laws, Broken Lives. The Senate report confirms the use of abusive and illegal interrogation techniques documented in these PHR reports. These techniques include:

  • beating
  • sexual and cultural humiliation
  • forced nakedness
  • exposure to extreme temperatures
  • exploitation of phobias
  • sleep deprivation
  • sensory deprivation and sensory overload
  • prolonged isolation
  • threats of imminent harm

Physicians for Human Rights has repeatedly called for an end to the use of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) interrogation tactics by US personnel, an end to the use of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT) teams, and called for a non-partisan commission to investigate the US government’s use of torture. Additionally, PHR has worked to mobilize the health professional community, particularly the professional associations, to adopt strong ethical prohibitions against direct participation in interrogations.

[Editors, please note: PHR has four leading experts on torture—physicians and psychologists who have investigated torture by US forces, studied the physical and psychological consequences, and advocated to hold health professionals accountable. To arrange an interview, please contact Jonathan Hutson, jhutson[at]phrusa[dot]org or 857-919-5130.]

BLBL Co-Author Allen Keller on Democracy Now!

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Allen Keller, MD discussed some of the findings of Broken Laws, Broken Lives the day after its release, on Democracy Now! Dr. Keller was one of the clinical evaluators and a co-author for the report. 

At one point in the interview, Democracy Now’s Juan Gonzales recounted some of the horrific abuses suffered by two of the detainees examined for Broken Laws, Broken Lives. Regarding the second detainee, Gonzales said:

Yussef, who was captured in Afghanistan, talked about being subjected to electric shock from a generator, feeling, quote, “as if my veins were being pulled out.” So this was really not only borderline examples of torture; this was actual physical torture that was occurring here against some of these men. 

Dr. Keller responded:

Absolutely. And it’s important, though, to note, you don’t necessarily have to lay a glove on someone for it to be torture. Sleep deprivation, all of these, quote, “enhanced” interrogation methods have devastating health consequences. 

This is an important point, often lost in discussions of US torture policy. PHR’s 2005 report, Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces, goes into more detail about the false distinction between physical and psychological torture.

Psychological torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment can have extremely destructive health consequences for detainees. The effects can include memory impairment, reduced capacity to concentrate, somatic complaints such as headache and back pain, hyperarousal, avoidance, and irritability. Additionally, victims often experience severe depression with vegetative symptoms, nightmares, and “feelings of shame and humiliation” associated with sexual violations, among others.

Although these short- and long-term consequences can be debilitating, the suffering of victims of psychological torture is often disregarded because they do not have physical evidence of the abuse they suffered. The lack of physical signs can make psychological torture seem less significant than physical torture, but the consensus among those who study torture and rehabilitate its victims is that psychological torture can be more painful and cause more severe and long-lasting damage even than the pain inflicted during physical torture. Indeed, as the UN Special Rapporteur on torture pointed out:

Often a distinction is made between physical and mental torture. This distinction, however, seems to have more relevance for the means by which torture is practised than for its character. Almost invariably the effect of torture, by whatever means it may have been practised, is physical and psychological. Even when the most brutal physical means are used, the long- term effects may be mainly psychological, even when the most refined psychological means are resorted to, there is nearly always the accompanying effect of severe physical pain. A common effect is the disintegration of the personality.

Break Them Down is available for free download here.

Democracy Now! has published a transcript of Dr. Keller’s appearance on the show

Physicians for Human Rights, 2 Arrow Street, Suite 301, Cambridge, MA 02138 | brokenlives[at]phrusa[dot]org | Tel 617.301.4219