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Torture

Freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is a fundamental human right established in international law. Since its founding in 1986, PHR's core mission has included investigating and reporting on the devastating consequences of torture on individuals, institutions, and society.

Health professionals can detect signs of physical and mental abuse that are not evident to traditional investigators. Where the torturer aims to silence the victim, PHR's work validates the survivor's voice. Where the torturer hides evidence of brutality, PHR provides physical proof of the violation. And, where the torturer uses the physician as an accomplice, PHR exposes the ethical travesty.

Based on our work, PHR developed the first set of international guidelines for investigating and assessing allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

The Association for the Prevention of Torture compiles the OPCAT Database, which contains comprehensive information on all states parties and signatories to the UN torture prevention treaty - the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

US Torture

In response to US personnel's systematic infliction of psychological and physical torture against detainees, PHR seeks to restore the US commitment against torture, to ensure humane treatment of detainees, and to protect US health personnel from complicity in mistreatment and harm. PHR is also working on legislation in MA and NY to sanction health care providers who participate in acts of torture and ill treatment.

Global Anti-Torture

Despite the absolute prohibition of torture in international law, it continues to be practiced in more than 100 countries, from totalitarian regimes to democracies. Countries frequently justify the use of torture as a necessary means to extract confessions, identify terrorists, and obtain intelligence critical to preventing future violence. Convictions are difficult to achieve because torturers have become adept at inflicting suffering through methods that leave few physical marks. In 1999, PHR co-authored the first set of international guidelines (the Istanbul Protocol) for the medical documentation of torture and its consequences. Since then, PHR has trained health professionals around the world to increase the number of independent, qualified experts capable of providing forensic medical evidence of torture so that victims may obtain justice.

Asylum

Every year, more than 40,000 people flee torture and unbearable persecution in their home country and seek safety in the US. PHR provides asylum seekers with medical and psychological evaluations to highlight the scars left by torture, beatings, sexual violence, slavery, and worse. PHR also protects survivors of torture and persecution by elevating the quality of health care in immigration detention centers, reducing the use of immigration detention, and eliminating arbitrary and unjustified barriers to asylum in the US.

Ban on Psychologists’ Participation in Interrogations Passes (August 7, 2015)

PHR welcomed a decision by the American Psychological Association to ban psychologists from participating in national security interrogations and advising on their confinement conditions, and to withdraw their presence from Guantánamo and other sites operating illegally.

PHR Urges Ban on Psychologists’ Participation in Interrogations (August 5, 2015)

The American Psychological Association (APA) should prohibit psychologists’ involvement in interrogations and other activities inconsistent with the profession’s “do no harm” ethic, Physicians for Human Rights said this week during the APA’s annual meeting in Toronto.

U.S. Department of Defense Considers New Retaliation Against Guantánamo Navy Nurse (July 23, 2015)

PHR today denounced new efforts by the military to revoke the security clearance of a U.S. Navy nurse, calling it backdoor retaliation for his refusal to force-feed Guantánamo detainees on hunger strike.

Guantánamo Navy Nurse Who Refused to Force-Feed Detainees to Receive Ethics Award (July 22, 2015)

PHR today commended the American Nurses Association (ANA) for honoring a nurse who refused to take part in the unethical and criminal practice of force-feeding detainees on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay.

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American Psychological Association’s First Step Toward Accountability (August 10, 2015)

When the American Psychological Association (APA) Council of Representatives voted Friday morning to rescind its policy allowing psychologists to participate in the interrogation of security detainees, it was a tectonic shift.

The Brutal Toll of Psychologists' Role in Torture (August 6, 2015)

While there is no question that the APA has much work to do to repair the damage to its integrity and to restore people's faith in the discipline of psychology, it is worth remembering that myriad individuals suffered directly as a result of this collusion. Over the last 13 years, more than 750 detainees have spent time in a rights-free zone that is the detention center at Guantánamo Bay.

Closing Guantánamo Is Imperative, But Not Enough (January 23, 2015)

During President Obama’s State of the Union address, he reaffirmed his commitment to closing the notorious prison at Guantánamo: Since I’ve been president, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of Gitmo in half. Now it is time to finish the job, and I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It is not who we are. It’s time to close Gitmo.

Psychologists Must Stand by their Ethical Obligations (August 11, 2014)

American psychologists designed and oversaw the brutal regime of interrogation used on detainees in U.S. military custody at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and elsewhere during the U.S. war on terror; but the profession has yet to punish any psychologist who participated in torture or to fully distance itself from this legacy.

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Preliminary Statement on the Hoffman Report (August 2015)

PHR’s statement outlines key findings of the Hoffman report and provides recommendations for accountability, policy reform, and justice.

Letter to APA Leadership on Prohibiting Psychologists' Participation in Interrogations (July 2015)

PHR's executive director sent a letter to leaders of the American Psychological Association supporting recommendations on prohibiting psychologists’ participation in interrogations.

Navy Nurse Press Call (May 2015)

Physicians for Human Rights commends the U.S. Navy’s decision not to discharge the nurse who refused to participate in the force-feeding of Guantánamo detainees.

Open Letter to the Government of Bahrain (March 2015)

Physicians for Human Rights, partner organizations, and human rights activists call on the government on Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience in the country in the aftermath of the 2011 popular uprising.

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Featured Campaign

US doctors 'hid signs of torture' at Guantánamo

US government doctors who cared for the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay deliberately concealed or ignored evidence that their patients were being tortured, the first official study of its kind has found. Read More »

Featured Expert

Steven Reisner, PhD

Steven Reisner, PhD

Dr. Reisner has worked tirelessly to amend policies of the American Psychological Association that support psychologists’ participation in unethical military and intelligence interrogations in places such as Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and the CIA ‘black sites’. Read More »