“US Following Systematic Torture Policy”
Sun Aug 1, 2010 1:26PM
US President Barack Obama has sidelined efforts to close the Guantanamo prison, making it unlikely that he will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013.
The United States says 181 detainees still remain at the notorious detention center.
However, dozens of them have been held without charges or trial.
Amnesty International has also urged the US government to immediately release the prisoners held at Guantanamo or to charge and try them in accordance with international law.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Dr. Allen Keller, Associate Professor of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, who co-authored Physicians for Human Rights’ (PHR) ground-breaking reports “Broken Laws, Broken Lives.”
He is the Director of the NYU School of Medicine Center for Health and Human Rights and the founder and Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture.
He is internationally recognized as an expert in documentation, evaluation, and treatment of torture victims.
Following is the rush transcript of the interview:
Press TV: Tell us briefly about what your program does?
Keller: The Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, which is based in New York city, provides comprehensive medical, mental health, social and legal services to immigrants, particularly refugees and asylum seekers who have endured torture and other profound human right abuses. We are actually one of more than a hundred centers around the world that operate under and in collaboration with the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims which is based in Denmark and have really been international leaders in this work to care for torture survivors and to speak out against torture.
Press TV: Of course in the aftermaths of September 11, 2001 attacks, during the past eight years, the issue of torture has gained tremendous prominence in the media as a matter of discussion among government and non-government experts. The Bush-Cheney years were marked by an embrace of methods that have been characterized by and denounced as torture by international organizations, including the United Nations, including physicians groups. And you yourself have issued a major report, “Broken Laws, Broken Lives”, about torture or the use of techniques that have been characterized as torture during the past years. What does that report show?
Keller: First I’d like to put it in context that clearly there has been much greater attention about torture since the terrorist attacks of September 11. Many discussions were held about the ethics of this, the effectiveness of it. I can clearly say, first, it is a violation of international law, it is immoral, and it is woefully ineffective and eliciting inaccurate information. What it is effective is in breaking spirits and dignity. We have now provided comprehensive care for over 3,000 men, women, and children from more than 80 countries, since our program started in 1995. Torture is documented to occur in over 100 countries around the world. It is important to point out that overwhelmingly these individuals subjected to torture that was never about eliciting information; what it is about is crushing decent and intimidating individuals and communities. So the individuals I have cared for, for example the Tibetan monk, who was arrested and shocked by cattle prods because he chanted “Long Live to Dalai Lama”, “Free Tibet”, or the African student activist who is peacefully speaking out for democracy and then horrifically sexually humiliated and beaten. These individuals have devastating health consequences and so my colleagues at The Bellevue/NYU Program and in our website along with my colleagues all around the world do our best to help rebuild lives. However, it is this context of the care for torture survivors. My appreciation as a physician, who has seen firsthand how devastating physically, psychologically and socially this is, that has made me feel the need to speak out, to document the clearly horrific torture that were conducted by my country.
Press TV: I want to go back to that, I mean the report, “Broken Laws, Broken Lives”, does it deal at all with practices of the US military and the CIA during the Bush-Cheney years?
Keller: Yes, I was a co-author of the report you mentioned, “Broken Laws, Broken Lives”, which was provided and sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). A copy of the report can be founded at PHR’s website. It’s one of the several reports that I have done with Physicians for Human Rights. In that report, what we did was we interviewed over a dozen individuals who had been previously detained at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. And we documented using international standards, clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and that for these individuals we found there were horrific health consequences. It is important to know with these individuals as with the most individuals who were detained on terror. These individuals were ultimately released without ever being charged, without ever having conducted evil-do process, but not before what I consider as some of the most brutal and traumatizing torture techniques I have experienced in my professional career.
Press TV: The United Nations in its own reports characterized Guantanamo, the site where US set up in Cuba, a naval base controlled by the United States, as a torture center. President Obama said that one of his first acts, perhaps his first act when coming to office was to shut down. Is your organization calling for the shut down of Guantanamo? Have you documented that Guantanamo was in fact a center for torture?
Keller: The individuals that we examined show clearly they have been tortured. It has been well documented that torture did occur at Guantanamo.
Press TV: At the beginning you said that it is a violation of international law and you also questioned its accountability. I believe you are involved with a Culture Project, a major event in New York City on June 7, called a “Blueprint for Accountability”. What should happen to those who allow for or instruct the use of torture and violate the international law? Of course, most people consider torture immoral, regardless of law. What kind of accountability should take place? For instance, should the American officials be prosecuted?
Keller: Well, first the group such as the Culture Project have really been a leader in increasing public awareness of this by bringing together scientists such as myself, policy makers, actors, and other artists to raise awareness. Therefore, the event that recently occurred in New York and was sponsored by Culture Project was a really powerful evening of commenting on this.
Press TV: Did it call for prosecution?
Keller: It clearly calls for accountability. We need to talk about what accountability is. First, I applauded and deeply appreciated President Obama’s stated commitment after he was elected and came to office. He first issued a prosecutor, basically discrediting the methods of prior administration. He also issued an order that ordered Guantanamo would be closed and I believe that he will make good on this. Clearly, it is taking longer than we would like, though.
Press TV: He also said that it is time to go forward not backward. The implied meaning is that there would be prosecution of people like those in Bush administration, in the military, and in the CIA, who were engaged in torture. I am wondering do torture victims feel that accountability is important not simply in terms of looking backward for justice, but looking forward to say if you are tortured, or you are engaged in torture, you are subject to the law like every one else and you could be held accountable. It means you should go to trial and go to prison.
Keller: Well I deeply appreciate and respect President Obama’s statement that we will not torture and Guantanamo should be closed. Respectfully, I strongly disagree with his assertion that we should move on at this point. Senator Patrick Leahy, who has been a leader of this, you cannot turn the page until you have read it. So in order for the accountability to happen, several things need to occur. First, there need to be an account of exactly what happened. They are still, I believe, only scratching the surface of what happened and that this mechanism for allowing torture to happen was not a rogue thing that happened on the night shift at Abu Ghraib, but really took the entire government system to be working for this to happen.
Press TV: The presentation of Bush administration was that those involved in torture cases were a few bad apples, a few rogue actors, lower down in Cheney command. However, you can see by this growing and by this still incomplete mountain of evidence that this was in fact the policy. I was noticing today in the aftermath of Stanley Allen McChrystal’s firing or resignation that in 2006, the New York Times wrote a major article about a camp called Nama, which was under the command of the joint operations’ command. It was considered to be one of the worst dungeons, one of the worst places of torture and even the army investigators and Red Cross investigators were barred by McChrystal and by others from going there. It seems as if that this was systematic, institutionalized, and it was used as the method, not as you point out to elicit information, but to break the spirit of those who are in detention. Isn’t it really the goal of it?
Keller: Well I actually wonder if they were misguided enough to believe that these methods were actually effective and eliciting information. One thing I just say to that is that over the past several years I had the opportunity to interact and converse with a number of professional interrogators. What I hear from them repeatedly is that morality aside, and it is a huge aside for me, but they say morality aside, these methods are not effective in eliciting the truth. You can get individuals to say whatever you want to but they are not effective. So, what happened in Abu Ghraib actually was important from what was used previously at Guantanamo and I wonder who might have been bad apples in the night shift in Abu Ghraib too. I believe it was misguided and it is dangerous and woefully naive.