During the past several years, the
For example, in August 2002, attorneys for the Justice Department drafted a memorandum in which they purported to “clarify” the definition of torture. In actuality, the authors of the memorandum, John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, completely redefined torture so that, in order for physical pain to constitute torture, it must “be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Likewise, the infliction of mental pain, in order to amount to torture (as defined by Yoo and Bybee), must " result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years”.
Moreover, Yoo and Bybee wrote that even if interrogation methods do violate the law, they could be justified under certain circumstances, such as when necessity or self-defense require – a proposition that directly contradicts the absolute prohibition of torture under longstanding and universally-accepted human rights standards.
Their memo was later withdrawn by lawyers for the DOJ, but others similar in scope replaced it. Even as evidence continues to mount indicating that such memos formed the basis of unlawful interrogation practices, leading to the abuse and torture of detainees in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, the administration stuck to its claim that detainees were being treated humanely and in accordance with international law.
The administration’s continued insistence that it does not torture has now suffered yet another blow from a recent report published by Physicians For Human Rights (PHR), which examined former detainees who had been held in U.S.-controlled prisons, and found concrete and irrefutable evidence of the physical and psychological fingerprints of torture.
In the report – Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and its Impact – PHR clinicians interviewed 11 former detainees and verified their stories in accordance with U.N. guidelines for assessing physical and psychological evidence of torture. In each case, available evidence corroborated the former detainees' claims. The former detainees were arrested in different locations in
The former detainees reported brutal beatings during their arrest and transfer to detention facilities, as well as being severely deprived of basic necessities, lack of sanitation, and assaults upon their person and dignity during their imprisonment, including:
- Being forced to live in urine-soaked detention rooms;
- Being prevented access to clean drinking water, toilets, or clothing;
- Subjected to forced isolation in small, dark rooms for extended periods of time; and
- Non-stop, intense sensory bombardment consisting of bright lights and/or loud music for days at a time, resulting in severe sleep deprivation.
- Severe beatings;
- Electric shocks; and
- Sodomy with rifles and sticks.
PHR’s evaluation made clear that the former detainees are still suffering from the long-term effects of their ill-treatment. Many former detainees reported: significant persistent and chronic physical pain and functional impairment; severe and disabling depression; difficulty sleeping; hypervigilance; intense anxiety and panic attacks; and diminution of social and work life, resulting in serious difficulties in finding employment and in being able to support their families.
Broken Lives confirms claims of torture and abuse of detainees in
The conclusions of Broken Lives impeach yet again the administration’s claims that the abuse of detainees in
By Mustafa Unlu, Human Rights & Anti-Terrorism Legal Intern at Human Rights USA.