Wednesday, December 10, 2008

PHR to Obama on the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Physicians for Human Rights has written a powerful letter to President-elect Obama, calling on "the incoming Obama administration to commit to fulfilling the promise of the entire Declaration and its expansive understanding of universal human rights." The letter notes that Obama's election represented a "triumph over prejudice and... a great stride in the long
march toward equality and dignity."

PHR's letter contains many important points on reestablishing human rights norms and recommitting to investing in global health, especially "women’s rights and health, and the health workforce needs of disease-burdened countries." But I was especially impressed on their section on torture, reprinted below:
Ensure that the prohibition against torture will be unambiguously enforced and that health professionals are no longer involved in interrogations.

Your administration should establish through an executive order a uniform standard that acknowledges international law prohibiting torture, namely Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention Against Torture. Such a standard should govern all U.S. agencies responsible for interrogating detainees, and must prohibit torture and all abusive techniques. The new standard should eliminate all loopholes that might allow torture, including the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation as contained in Appendix M of the 2006 U.S. Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collection (Army Field Manual 2-22.3). The U.S. must immediately disclose to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the identity and whereabouts of all prisoners who either are or have been in U.S. custody since September 11, 2001. All detention sites must be made available for unscheduled and unrestricted monitoring by the ICRC.

Your administration should also establish an appropriate accountability mechanism, such as a non-partisan commission equipped with subpoena power, to expose and investigate evidence of torture and cruel treatment, and make recommendations on prosecutions for any crimes committed. The commission should have a specific subgroup to address abuses against detainees that involved participation of health professionals and violations of professional ethics. Detainees released from U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere must no longer be transferred to countries where, according to the State Department Human Rights Report, severe human rights abuses may occur.

Your administration should work with the American Psychological Association to implement its September 2008 referendum prohibiting the involvement of psychologists in illegal interrogations. The government must never engage health professionals to undertake interrogation-related activities that violate individuals’ human rights or professional ethics.

Administration officials must also ensure that those who experienced torture and cruel treatment while in U.S. custody have access to reparations, including an official apology, compensation, and appropriate care, including psycho-social services. Your administration should adopt a new policy for responding to hunger strikers at detention centers that complies with international standards of medical ethics, thereby abandoning the current policy of forcefeeding.

We urge your administration to return to the previous standard for detainee medical treatment, in place in prior to 2003, ensuring that their healthcare is parallel to that provided to U.S. soldiers.
I've highlighted the section on Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, as its inclusion dooms the document as any kind of satisfying or legitimate replacement for the CIA's torture techniques, even if does ban some of the more egregious SERE-like tortures, like waterboarding and stress positions.

The entire subject has taken on ominous overtones with the statements of House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas. As reported by Glenn Greenwald today, quoting
The House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat [Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas] said Tuesday he has recommended that President-elect Barack Obama keep the country's current national intelligence director and CIA chief in place for some time to ensure continuity in U.S. intelligence programs during the transition to a new administration. . . .

In an interview, Reyes said he believes that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden should be kept in their posts. Reyes believes they should stay for at least six months, but said the time frame is ultimately a decision Obama must make....

Reyes, D-Texas, said he also recommended to Obama's transition team that some parts of the CIA's controversial alternative interrogation program should be allowed to continue. He declined to say what he specifically recommended, however. . . .

"There are those that believe that this particular issue has to be dealt with very carefully because there are beliefs that there are some options that need to be available," Reyes said.
So far there is very little to seem positive about when it comes to fundamentally changing U.S. torture policy. All the trial balloons are floating in the wrong direction, and things are being set up to turn to the supposedly moderate Army Field Manual as the "reasonable" substitute, the "best we can do." Except it includes techniques that are right out of Guantanamo, and constitute violations of international law, if not the U.S. War Crimes Act. The Pentagon, the DIA, the CIA, I don't know... someone is gaming the system on this, and no doubt hope the populace is so afraid about the crumbling economy that hardly anyone will notice.

PHR has long taken the front-line position in exposing the corrupted parts of the AFM, but once a meme gets established, it's difficult to change it. Other human rights and civil liberties groups are going to have to step up and put the pressure on. The military and intelligence agencies are twisting arms in D.C. If we don't fight back, and show public interest, then things will not change.

Hat-tips to jhutson and truong son traveler of Daily Kos

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