About The Torture Papers

In early 2003, when reports of torture by US military personnel began to surface publicly, PHR committed to investigating allegations of US torture, advocating against its practice and mobilizing health professionals to advocate for an end to these abuses.

As evidence of US national security interrogation practices emerged, it became clear that psychologically abusive methods of interrogation were at the core of US intelligence gathering. In May 2005, PHR issued a report entitled Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces. Break Them Down was the first comprehensive review of the use of psychological torture by US forces, examining the devastating health consequences of psychological abuse and explaining how a regime of psychological torture was put into place under the US “war on terror.”

Following the enactment of the 2006 Military Commissions Act, PHR united the legal expertise of Human Rights First with PHR’s medical expertise to issue the report Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality, demonstrating that ten interrogation methods purportedly used by the CIA amounted to war crimes.

PHR next mobilized health professionals to conduct intensive clinical evaluations of individuals formerly held in US military custody at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The resulting landmark analysis, entitled Broken Laws, Broken Lives (June 2008), illustrated the horrific physical and psychological impact of US interrogation and detention practices during the “war on terror” period.

At the end of August 2009, PHR experts in medicine, psychology, and medical ethics released a white paper examining in detail torture techniques revealed in the 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report on interrogation of national security detainees, which had been released to the public on August 24. PHR’s analysis of the CIA IG report was entitled Aiding Torture: Health Professionals’ Ethics and Human Rights Violations Revealed in the May 2004 CIA Inspector General’s Report (Aug. 31, 2009). At the conclusion of the white paper, the Aiding Torture authors observed that health professionals might have monitored CIA torture techniques in order to assess and improve their effectiveness, which could constitute unethical human experimentation.

The implications that medical monitoring could mean research was being conducted on detainees without their consent was met with tremendous public outcry for the truth about the extent and nature of health professional involvement in US interrogations. PHR and other experts looked more deeply into the evidence on the public record. A number of the experts have collaborated with PHR as co-authors and external reviewers on the latest report, Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the “Enhanced” Interrogation Program (June 2010).

Experiments in Torture details the involvement of US military and intelligence health professionals in experiments on detainees captured by the US after September 2001. Those experiments observed and analyzed the physical and psychological impact on detainees of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The experiments were used by attorneys in the Department of Justice to craft a legal framework designed to shield interrogators from prosecution for torture. This human subject research and experimentation on a specific group of people — so-called enemy combatants in the war on terror — is in violation of the legal and ethical protections afforded by the Nuremberg Code, the Geneva Conventions, federal regulations governing human subject research, known as “The Common Rule” and the federal War Crimes Act. The experiments themselves represent war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity — separate and distinct from the acts of torture.

The investigation of abuses against individuals in custody has been a key feature of the work of PHR and its health professional constituents for over two decades. In 1981, Jonathan Fine, MD, a Boston physician, responded to a call to lead a delegation to Chile to seek the release of three prominent physicians who had been disappeared and tortured by the Pinochet regime. Five year later, Dr. Fine joined other Boston-area physicians, who had undertaken human rights delegations to South Africa, El Salvador, and the Philippines, to establish PHR. Among the first acts of the new organization was a 1987 forensic investigation of the death of a prisoner in police custody in Kenya.

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