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Actors, Activists and Experts Call for Accountability

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June 8, 2010

Yesterday, the Culture Project presented a second installment in their “Blueprint for Accountability” series. A blend of theater, film, and conversation, the series aims to engage the public in a conversation about how to achieve accountability for crimes of torture and abuse committed in America’s name after 9/11.

The centerpiece of the evening was an on-stage panel discussion hosted by Vince Warren of the Center for the Constitutional Rights, featuring Dr. Allen Keller, Founder of the Bellevue NYU Program for Survivors of Torture; activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.; former CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson; retired Iraq commander Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez; and journalists Ron Suskind and Jeremy Scahill, among others. Segments of the conversation were framed by short video pieces on topics including “The Rule of Law: From the Geneva Conventions to Guantánamo” and “There’s No Such Things as a Little Bit of Torture,” as well as dramatic readings by actors James Spader, Liev Schreiber, Julianna Margulies, Mariska Hargitay and Matt Dillon.

Among the topics discussed on stage was a new report released by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) yesterday that analyzes declassified government documents to reveal how the Bush administration conducted illegal and unethical human experimentation and research on detainees in CIA custody in an attempt to provide legal cover for torture. According to the report, health professionals engaged in research on detainees, in violation of the Geneva Conventions and other international and domestic prohibitions against human subject research and experimentation. This research included monitoring the effects of abusive treatment, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation, in order to assess how far “enhanced interrogation techniques” could go and still be within the legal parameters and to guide the future application of the techniques. PHR intends to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) and call for an OHRP investigation of the CIA’s Office of Medical Services. For more about the report and its findings, check out this video by PHR.

The evening came to a close with a powerful reading of a letter to President Obama by Sister Dianna Ortiz, a U.S. citizen tortured in Guatemala. Sister Ortiz writes:

Mr. President, from anonymous graves, voices still cry out. From clandestine prisons, in the midst of indescribable pain, we, my sisters and brothers, beg you to hear. Will you listen to what we alone know of this crime against humanity–what we know from the inside out?

Please hear us! Torture does not end with the release from some clandestine prison. It is not something we “get over.” Simply, “looking forward” is not an option for us. Torture is a permanent invasion of our minds and our souls. Surviving is far worse than the actual physical torture itself. Those wounds heal in time–but the memories cling to us. Psychological torture is time without end. No one fully recovers from torture. The damage can never be undone.

What is our claim to speak with authority on this subject? We have been beaten, hanged by wrists, arms, or legs, burned by electrical devices or cigarettes, bitten by humans and dogs, cut or stabbed with knives or machetes. And this is only a sample of what has been done to us. Each mark, visible or invisible, is a permanent reminder of what was done to us–a reminder that in so many cases fills us with embarrassment and even shame. What a cruel irony that it is the tortured one and not the torturer who feels shame.

And what an irony it is that today in the United States, the tortured so often are told that what they experienced was not even cruel and unusual, let alone torture. What an irony that those who oppose torture, oppose the violation of U.S law by acts of non-violent civil resistance can be sent to prison while those who ordered this brutality walk free, receiving the de facto impunity implied in your call to “look forward” and only forward.

Mr. President, there is ample reason to believe that important members of the previous administration may well have violated the law. Is it not your responsibility and that of the Attorney General to investigate that possibility? And if the law was violated, is it not your responsibility to hold perpetrators accountable, no matter how exalted their previous positions?

As we continue as a nation to grapple with the crimes committed in America’s name, we at the ACLU urge you to continue confronting the evidence and join us in demanding meaningful accountability for torture.

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