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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.

PHR Responds to Blanket Redaction of CIA Torture Documents (June 14, 2016)

The CIA released a trove of documents related to its rendition, detention, and interrogation programs, and PHR is appalled that the agency redacted nearly all details concerning the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, the entity ostensibly charged with detainee care.

Federal Judge Allows Lawsuit Against Architects of CIA Torture Program to Proceed (April 22, 2016)

A lawsuit brought by victims of CIA torture against two psychologists who designed and oversaw the illegal program will be allowed to proceed in a U.S. court.

PHR: United States Must Close Guantánamo and End Indefinite Detention (February 23, 2016)

Physicians for Human Rights urged President Obama to ensure all detainees are safely repatriated, resettled in third countries, or prosecuted in federal courts, in response to the administration’s newly announced plan to close Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility.

U.S. Government Releases Photos of Detainee Abuse at U.S. Military Facilities (February 5, 2016)

The U.S. government released 198 photos relating to detainee abuse at U.S. military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, but continued to withhold most of approximately 2,000 photos depicting prisoner ill-treatment that had been requested by the ACLU.

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The Human Cost of Guantánamo (January 7, 2016)

This month marks the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay detention center, the most visible symbol of U.S. torture and injustice around the world. President Obama has called the prison a “sad chapter in American history.” Unfortunately, Guantánamo is still open – and so is this sad chapter.

Guantánamo: A Badge of Shame (January 7, 2016)

Fourteen years ago, the U.S. government opened Guantánamo Bay detention facility in an effort to create a place beyond the reach of the law and the Constitution -- a place where the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment could be violated with impunity. Today, the consequences of that pernicious move are being felt in every corner of the United States.

The Shamefully Unfinished Story of the CIA Torture Program (December 9, 2015)

One year ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee released part of its massive report documenting the brutality and lawlessness of the CIA torture program. Yet 12 months later, those who designed, ordered, and carried out this deliberate and systematic effort to destroy human beings remain – shamefully – unaccountable for their crimes.

An $81 Million Betrayal of Medical Ethics (October 14, 2015)

Psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen designed and implemented a torture program for the CIA for more than $1 million each, $5 million in indemnity against legal liability, and $81 million for the firm they established - Mitchell, Jessen, & Associates.

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Letter to U.S. Senate on Indefinite Detention (June 2016)

As Congress considers Guantánamo-related provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2017, the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, the Center for Victims of Torture, and Physicians for Human Rights sent a letter to the U.S. Senate calling for an end to indefinite detention without charge or trial.

Truth Matters: Accountability for CIA Psychological Torture (December 2015)

One year after the Senate torture report’s partial release, transparency and accountability – let alone redress to victims – remain stalled. The U.S. government must end the cover-up of torture and ill-treatment and honor its obligation to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

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.

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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 »