As Torture's Mental Toll is Illuminated, Doctors Call for US Accountability

The advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) on Monday said the U.S. has lost any moral high ground in the so-called war on terror after years of revelations that the CIA secretly tortured detainees, and warned that history would “certainly” repeat itself without full accountability.

PHR released its statement in response to new reporting by the New York Times which highlighted the long-term psychological devastation that the torture program wreaked on former prisoners, many of whom now live with debilitating trauma, anxiety, and in some cases, psychosis.

The article, published Sunday, shed yet more light on the gruesome tactics carried out against detainees that ranged from threats to beatings, sleep deprivation, and sexual violence.

“This latest revelation of the scope, pervasiveness, magnitude, and utter unlawfulness of this so–called ‘enhanced interrogation’ program and related practices should be a wake–up call to the administration,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s medical director.

The Times spoke with several former detainees who survived their ordeals at the hands of the U.S. One man, Mohamed Ben Soud, who was held in a now-infamous secret CIA prison in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit, described being shackled and hooded and doused in water, which caused a drowning or choking sensation. In 2004, a year after he was captured, Ben Soud was handed over to the Libyan government, remaining in jail for another seven years. There, he said, he was treated better by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces than American agents.


Today, Ben Soud is free from prison, but is wracked by anxiety and mood swings, and struggles making simple decisions, he told the Times.

Ben Soud is one of three plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the architects of the torture program, James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, who are accused of violating the men’s human rights. The other plaintiffs are Suleiman Abdullah Salim, who has previously spoken about the lasting psychological damage, and Gul Rahman, who died of hypothermia while in CIA custody. Last week, a U.S. federal judge ruled that two former CIA officials, John Rizzo and Jose Rodriguez, who helped lay the legal groundwork for Mitchell and Jessen’s program, would have to submit to questioning by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as part of the lawsuit.

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Another man, Mohammed Jawad, who was arrested as a teenager and held both in Afghanistan and at the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for several years, told the Times he suffers from flashbacks, panic attacks, and nightmares. “They tortured us in jails, gave us severe physical and mental pain, bombarded our villages, cities, mosques, schools,” he wrote in a text message to the reporters. “Of course we have” psychological damage.

Many of the prisoners routinely experienced threats of rape, rectal feeding, and forced nudity. These acts of sexual violence disprove “any claims that these actions were lawful or justifiable,” Iacopono said. “They are the very epitome of torture and ill–treatment.”

“This history will almost certainly be repeated unless there is full accountability for the torture program and related violations, starting with full disclosure,” he continued. “Until that time, the United States’ respect for the rule of law will remain in question. And there will be no healing until there is justice and remedy for the victims and accountability for those responsible.”

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