Tuesday, November 04, 2008 by: David Gutierrez
"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," wrote retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba in the preface to the report. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.
Taguba was the general who led the investigation of allegations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. After releasing a report documenting the torture performed there, Taguba was forced out of the army.
In the new report, titled "Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and Its Impact," physicians examined 11 former prisoners who claimed they had been subjected to torture by their U.S. captors. It was the first study to medically document first-hand accounts of torture "based on internationally accepted standards for clinical assessment of torture claims," the human rights group said.
The report "tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture," Taguba writes in the preface. "This story is not only written in words, it is scrawled for the rest of these individuals' lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors."
The torture suffered by the former prisoners was not the result of a few decisions by lower-ranking soldiers, Taguba said, but of a policy that came straight out of the White House and of doctors and psychologists who colluded with torturers.
"In order for these individuals to suffer the wanton cruelty to which they were subjected, a government policy was promulgated to the field whereby the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice were disregarded," he writes. "The UN Convention Against Torture was indiscriminately ignored. And the healing professions, including physicians and psychologists, became complicit in the willful infliction of harm against those the Hippocratic Oath demands they protect."
"Through the experiences of these men in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, we can see the full scope of the damage this illegal and unsound policy has inflicted," he said.
The 121-page report documents medical evidence that the 11 prisoners examined had been subjected to beatings, shackling, involuntary medication, sleep deprivation, electric shock, sexual humiliation, anal rape, threats to their families and other forms of deliberate physical and psychological abuse.
"We found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse, often causing lasting suffering," medical evaluator Dr. Allen Keller said.
The Bush administration has repeatedly denied allegations that the U.S. tortures detainees.
Four of the men had been captured in or near Afghanistan between late 2001 and early 2003 before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay; seven had been captured in Iraq in 2003. All the men were eventually released without charge. Before their release, however, the report concludes that all were subjected to various forms of torture that "often occurred in combination over a long period of time."
Although the examination of 11 specific former prisoners did not allow the study's authors to make conclusions about the treatment of U.S. detainees in general, they noted that their findings were consistent with those of prior investigations. Because of this, it is "reasonable to conclude that these detainees were not the only ones abused, but are representative of a much larger number of detainees subjected to torture and ill treatment while in U.S. custody."
One of the former prisoners examined by physicians was an Iraqi man in his mid-40s, identified in the report as "Laith." The examination concluded that he had been subjected to electric shock and sleep deprivation, and that he and his family had been threatened with sexual assault.
"They took off even my underwear. They asked me to do some movements that make me look in a very bad way so they can take photographs. ... they were trying to make me look like an animal," Laith said. "And they asked me, 'have you ever heard voices of women in this prison?' I answered, 'yes.' They were saying, 'then you will hear your mothers and sisters when we are raping them.'"
"Laith appears to have suffered severe and lasting physical and psychological injuries as a result of his arrest and incarceration at Abu Ghraib prison," the report concluded.
Another case was that of "Youssef," detained while trying to cross the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan without a passport. He was taken to an Afghan prison, where he reported "being stripped naked, being intimidated by dogs, being hooded and being thrown against the wall on repeated occasions." He was then transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where he was forced to lie on the floor with his hands tied to his feet behind him, while interrogators demanded that he confess to being involved with the Taliban.
Physicians for human rights called on the U.S. government to formally apologize to all people who it had detained and tortured since autumn 2001. It further demanded that the Bush administration "repudiate all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment"; establish an independent committee to investigate the cases and conditions of those detained at U.S. prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay; carefully monitor conditions at all U.S.-operated prisons; and hold torturers accountable.
"These men deserve justice as required under the tenets of international law and the United States Constitution," Taguba said. "And so do the American people."