Saturday, June 21, 2008

Broken Laws, Broken Lives: PHR's New Must Read Report

Let me add my voice to the cascade of praise for Physicians for Human Rights's new publication Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by the U.S. As PHR puts it in their publicity for the document, "we have for the first time medical evidence to confirm first-hand accounts of men who endured torture by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay. These men were never charged with any crime."

Moreover, PHR has engineered a coup by getting Major General Antonio M. Taguba, "deputy commanding general for support for the Third Army for ten months in Kuwait during the early days of the Iraq occupation," to write a preface to the report. Taguba, who wrote his own report on the abuses at Abu Ghraib in 2004, and was reportedly forced to "retire" last year due to his criticisms of the U.S. military, minces no words in his PHR preface, accusing unnamed U.S. high officials of "war crimes."
After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.
As PHR explains in their introduction to Broken Laws, Broken Lives:
This provides first-hand accounts and medical evidence of torture and cruel, inhuman,
or degrading treatment or punishment (“illtreatment”) of eleven former detainees who were held in US custody overseas. Using internationally accepted standards, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) conducted medical evaluations of the former detainees to document the severe, long-term physical and psychological consequences that have resulted from the torture and illtreatment. The evaluations provide evidence of violation of criminal laws prohibiting torture and of the commission of war crimes by US personnel.
The detainees examined were from Guantanamo and Iraq; all of them were ultimately released, though not before they were subjected to torture and abuse while in U.S. custody. The effects of this torture were documented throught the use of well-established medical procedures, notably the Istanbul Protocol: International Guidelines for the Investigation and Documentation of Torture.

From the report, some of the tale of Youssef, a man in his mid-forties, "held by US personnel at Kandahar and Guantánamo Bay detention centers. He was subjected to beatings, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, and sexual and cultural humiliation. He
was released in November 2003." Medically, it was determined that he currently suffers from depression, PTSD, and panic disorder.
Youssef recalled that after his interrogation [by U.S. officials at Kandahar, Afghanistan], soldiers tripped him naked. He noted that many of the soldiers were female and he believed that “they were just trying to humiliate us.” He was allowed no sleep during his first night in Kandahar because the guards “kept kicking us [and] throwing sand at us.” Throughout his roughly six weeks in Kandahar, he endured other abuse, including being stripped naked, being intimidated by dogs, being hooded, and being thrown against the wall on repeated occasions....

Youssef was subsequently transferred to Guantánamo in early 2002. He recalled that he was forced to disrobe in front of female soldiers, was clothed in an orange suit and dark goggles, and his ears were covered with headphones. He stated, “They didn’t tell us anything — I remember the plane and the doors opening and there was warm air"....

Youssef described the conditions at Camp X-Ray as deplorable: “It was just a big plot of concrete and they had these steel cages [and] it was really, really hot…even in the night.” The prisoners were let out of the two-square meter “cages” only for questioning, were not allowed to speak to each other, and had to use a bucket as a toilet. Even small infractions could result in beatings. “If they would find one piece of string on the floor they would send in the ‘robocops’ [the IRF soldiers dressed in riot helmets and padded uniforms] to beat us.” The detainees were kicked all over, including in the back, legs, and head. According to Youssef, during the two to three times that he was beaten this way in Camp X-Ray someone who he presumed to be a doctor was always present; he suspected this was to make sure there were no injuries. Youssef suffered bruising as a result of these beatings and did his best to follow prison rules in order to avoid such abuses. However, he witnessed other detainees being beaten this way on a daily basis....

Apart from following interrogations or beatings, and despite his frequent requests for medical attention (“many, many” requests) for persistent stomach pain and swelling in his wrists, Youssef noted that he rarely saw physicians at Guantánamo. He was of the opinion that no one was concerned with the detainees’ health and recalled having been told by one of the physicians, “We’re making sure you don’t die in here — besides that whatever happens doesn’t interest us.” Youssef reported that he was forced to take medications as part of what he considered “experiments” and recalled receiving an estimated ten to fifteen unknown injections, often developing rashes several hours after these injections (“red dots on my body and shoulders that would start to itch”). A fellow detainee informed him that the injections could cause impotence or heart attacks, although nothing was ever said by the doctors. He also indicated that some individuals administering the injections were “civilians … coming to take lessons — it was like internships” but acknowledged that this may only have been his perception....

While in Camp Delta, Youssef asked to speak with a psychologist because he was distressed, and the two spoke about him missing his family and his feelings of sadness. Although Youssef believed the meeting was confidential, he stated that shortly after the psychologist left, he was brought to an interrogator who immediately brought up information connected to his disclosures, such as telling him that he was going to stay at Guantánamo for the rest of his life and discussing his family (“Don’t you want to leave this place and get back together with your family?”...If you do as we tell you, you can get back to your family.”). He stated, “I figured out the reason they had called me for the interrogation was because the psychologist had told them about the meeting.” He stated, “They were stressing these fears very much.” Following this interrogation, Youssef reported that he was moved to the “worst” section in Camp Delta, where he was not allowed to have a blanket or a mattress.
War Crimes and a Culture of Non-Accountability

The entire report, as you can imagine, makes for very difficult reading, due to the traumatic nature of the subject matter. But in the first decade of the 21st century, the militarist and inhumane policies of the United States have made such material essential to educate the citizenry about the nature of these policies. The revelations about the actions of doctors and psychologists is particularly disturbing, and only further corroborates crimes by these professionals at U.S. security sites that have been well-documented elsewhere, and certainly discussed dozens of times in articles at this site.

The cry for war crimes trials belies the fact that no high or authoritative U.S. official has ever stood trial for a war crime, despite decades of documented crimes in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and now the Middle East and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The national security state apparatus wields tremendous power over all three branches of U.S. government. Not only has no official or high-level officer had to answer for the crimes of torture, or any other war crime (such as the use of chemical warfare on civilian populations by the U.S. in Fallujah), but no doctor or psychologist has even been brought up on ethics charges by their own professional societies for their unfit and criminal behavior.

It will take practically a revolution (of some sort) to pry the engine of inviolablity from their control and re-establish the rule of law over the apparatus of government.

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