Reject human experimentation: Demand accountability
This letter includes footnotes not displayed below. View the footnotes in the PDF version of the letter.
Copies of this letter were distributed to members of Congress on June 26 , 2010. The letter is still open for signatures and copies with updated signature lists may be distributed later in the year.
Dear Attorney General Holder:
We are deeply concerned about grave abuses of the rule of law, as well as the Justice Department’s continuing abdication of our nation’s commitments under international law to investigate crimes against humanity and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Since the dawn of medical practice, no maxim has attained greater consensus than the commitment to “do no harm.” Physicians for Human Rights recently revealed the participation of medical professionals in not only designing torture programs “administered with meticulous cruelty,” but also outright human experimentation. Both have long been repudiated across the medical profession, as well as by religious leaders from every faith, and our nation has gone so far as to wage a World War in part to stop them.
Describing the involvement of medical professionals as “revolting and...deeply disturbing,” Dr. Scott Allen of Brown University said, “This fine-tuning of torture is unethical, incompetent, and a disgrace to medicine.” Using “detainees subjected to waterboarding…[as] guinea pigs” is an even worse offense, recalling the Third Reich’s abuses of human rights.
Human experimentation by US officials mocks our nation’s veterans from World War II, who fought—and died—in part to establish the international prohibition of torture. For our nation to concede the principle of strict liability for torture and other human rights violations now, 60 years after their world-historic victory, would be a travesty of historic proportions.
The Justice Department (DOJ) has already chosen to disregard its duties under the International Convention Against Torture (CAT), whose mandate to investigate all allegations of torture is obligatory, and permits no exception. In contrast to looking “forward rather than backward,” the CAT clearly states:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. Article 2, Section 2.In spite of the requirement to investigate all credible allegations up the chain of command, DOJ has limited the scope of its criminal inquiry. Only junior level agents who violated torture techniques approved by senior government officials face investigation, while the senior officials responsible for the policies (many of whom continue to draw government paychecks) have enjoyed a free pass. Indeed, “the government doctors and psychologists who participated in and authorized the torture of detainees have escaped discipline, accountability, or even internal investigation.” DOJ has fallen short of even admitting ethical violations, finding that potential violations of international law by department lawyers reflected only “poor judgment.”
An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture. Art 2., Sec 3.
Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture. Art 4, Section 1.
Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature. Art 4, Section 2.
Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committee in any territory under its jurisdiction. Art. 12
In a nation that imprisons 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, categorical immunity for senior officials accused of international crimes is conspicuous. Discriminatory justice not only offends the millions of less politically connected Americans who remain subject to the law, but also undermines the legitimacy of our criminal justice system. In addition, looking “forward rather than backward,” runs the predictable risks of eroding laws prohibiting torture and inviting more of it--around the world--in the future.
Given new evidence of human experimentation, we implore you to comply with our nation’s binding treaty commitments by investigating all decision-makers responsible for Bush-era torture policies. Please help restore the rule of law by ensuring its equal application to all.