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Red Cross Report on Treatment of CIA Detainees Published

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April 7, 2009

Last night, the New York Review of Books website published the International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) 40-page report on the treatment of the 14 so-called “high-value detainees” (PDF) held at Guantánamo. This is especially stunning because this report was previously classified — the document itself states that it is “strictly confidential” and intended for CIA eyes only. The report concluded that the CIA used torture and that “[t]he totality of the circumstances in which the fourteen were held effectively amounted to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty and enforced disappearance.”

Many of the report’s findings aren’t surprising: we’ve known for quite while, through investigative reporting, FOIA litigation, former detainee accounts and even admissions by the CIA, that detainees were tortured with prolonged stress positions, forced nudity, and sleep deprivation, and at least three of them were waterboarded.

What’s come through in more detail, however, is medical professionals’ actual participation in the torture of prisoners:

For certain methods, notable suffocation by water, the health personnel were allegedly directly participating in the infliction of ill-treatment. In one case, it was alleged that the health personnel actively monitored a detainee’s oxygen saturation using what, from the description of the detainee of a device placed over the finger, appeared to be a pulse oxymeter

…Other detainees who were shackled in stress standing positions for prolonged periods in their cells were monitored by health personnel who in some instances recommended stopping the method of ill-treatment, or recommended its continuation, but with adjustments…

The report finds that such participation is “contrary to international standards of medical ethics.” (Daily Kos blogger and psychologist Jeff Kaye’s blog, Invictus, has tons more on the ethics debate about medical professionals’ participation in torture, including the movement to reform the American Psychological Association policy towards members who participate in detainee torture and interrogation. Also check out and the Physicians for Human Rights blog.)

The report also mentions two still-confidential previous ICRC reports on “undisclosed detention” from 2004 and 2006 which were ignored by the Bush Administration and contained the names of 42 and 59 people, respectively, “allegedly held in undisclosed detention by the U.S. authorities.” Sadly, “in both cases, the list included two children.”

The release of this report, which calls on the U.S. government to “investigate and punish perpetrators” (at p. 27), should put to rest any doubt that an independent prosecutor is needed to investigate and prosecute torture and other criminal acts. Take action now by sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations in the ICRC report.

It’s also time for the Obama administration to make good on its commitment to transparency and disclose the CIA torture memos issued by the Bush Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. As Senator Leahy said, “we cannot turn the page until we have read the page.”

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