Thursday, January 22, 2009

PHR Praises (Critically) Obama's Executive Order on Torture

Whenever I find myself getting too negative, or on the contrary, being unreasonably optimistic and not attending to important information, I can count on the very reasonable and knowledgeable folks at Physicians for Human Rights to set me back on the right course.

This is the feeling I got once again when I read their press release today on President Obama's Executive Orders ending the illegal U.S. detention and interrogation program. While I have emphasized in previous posts my concerns about the what has been left out of Obama's reforms, or places where the torture cancer remains untouched or lies dormant, PHR takes a balanced approach, approving of important changes regarding torture and interrogations from the Bush years, and looking forward to the needed changes still necessary to return to this country to completely civilized status.

What follows is today's PHR press release:
For Immediate Release: Jan. 22, 2009

Contact: Nathaniel Raymond

PHR Praises President Obama's Executive Orders Ending Illegal US Detention and Interrogation Program; Accountability for Perpetrators of Torture Still Needed

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) praises President Obama for signing historic executive orders today that end the US' illegal detention and interrogation program, marking a clear departure from the abuses of the past administration and a return to the rule of law.

"PHR applauds President Obama's swift action to reclaim America's legacy as a nation committed to the rule of law," said Frank Donaghue, Chief Executive Officer of PHR. "The reforms enacted today represents a victory for human rights and a blow against the use of torture."

Despite today's major progress, additional work remains to be done. PHR calls on President Obama and Congress to immediately authorize a non-partisan commission to investigate the authorization, legal justification, and implementation of the Bush Administration's regime of psychological and physical torture. Any accountability mechanism must include a subgroup tasked with investigating the participation of health professionals in detainee abuse. Additionally, any evidence that U.S. officials violated anti-torture law should be turned over to the Department of Justice.

"The desire to turn the page on the past seven years of detainee abuse and torture by US forces is understandable," Donaghue said. "However, President Obama, Congress and the health professions will not have fulfilled their obligation to the Constitution and medical ethics if we settle only for reform without accountability."

PHR urges the Obama Administration to end the use of Behavioral Science Consultants (BSCs) in interrogations. The continued use of BSCs violates medical ethics and subverts the traditions of the healing professions. Any procedures currently in place involving health professionals in interrogations which violate medical ethics should be prohibited.

"The past administration's weaponization of the health professions to inflict harm on detainees constitutes a war crime unto itself," said Donaghue. "Despite all that has been disclosed so far about abuses committed by health professionals, many questions remain, chief among them is whether there will be any accountability for gross violations of medical ethics and the law."

Additionally, PHR also calls on the task force appointed by the president to review US interrogation and transfer policies to revoke Appendix M of the Army Field Manual. This section allows the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and isolation—tactics which can constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under U.S. and international law. PHR encourages the task force to consult with human rights organizations as part of the review process.

Physicians for Human Rights mobilizes the health profession to advance the health and dignity of all people by protecting human rights. As a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. For more information, please visit us at


William Ockham said...

The thing that most folks on both sides of the debate are forgetting is that Obama intends to have honest inter-agency processes, not the shams of the Bush administration. By setting up these high-level reviews, Obama has given us the opportunity to push for the changes we want. Well-timed congressional investigations will have salutory effect on these decisions.

Valtin said...

William, I hope you are right. I have not taken any specific position yet on what Obama intends. I was very glad to see him send to the trash-heap all those legal "opinions" of the Bush post-9/12 WH.

For me, the litmus test will be the continuation of the Appendix M techniques as part of the U.S. official interrogation repertoire.

We have yet to reap the full benefit of congressional investigations already completed, and I look forward to Levin's release of the declassified SASC report on SERE interrogation.

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