WHEREAS, The United States Department of Defense has failed to oversee the ethical conduct of California-licensed health professionals related to torture; now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate and the Assembly of the State of California, jointly, That the Legislature hereby requests all relevant California agencies, including, but not limited to, the Board of Behavioral Sciences, the Dental Board of California, the Medical Board of California, the Osteopathic Medical Board of California, the California State Board of Pharmacy, the Physician Assistant Committee of the Medical Board of California, the California Board of Pediatric Medicine, the Board of vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians, the Board of Psychology, and the Board of Registered Nursing, to notify California-licensed health professionals via newsletter, email, and Web site about their professional obligations under international law, specifically Common Article HI of the Geneva Conventions, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the amended War Crimes Act, which prohibit the torture of and the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment of detainees in United States custody; and be it further __
Resolved, That the Legislature hereby requests all relevant California agencies ___ to notify health professionals licensed in California that those who participate in torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment may one day be subject to prosecution; and be it further
Resolved. That the Legislature hereby requests the United States Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency to remove all California-licensed health professionals, including, but not limited to, physicians and psychologists, from participating in any way in prisoner and detainee interrogations, in view of their respective ethical obligations, the record of abusive interrogation practices, and the Legislature’s interest in protecting California health professionals from the risk of criminal liability; and be it further
Resolved, That the Secretary of the Senate transmit copies of this resolution to the United States Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and all relevant California agencies, including, but not limited to, the Board of Behavioral Sciences, the Dental Board of California. the Medical Board of California, the Osteopathic Medical Board of California, the California State Board of Pharmacy, the Physician Assistant Committee of the Medical Board of California, the California Board of Pediatric Medicine, the Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians, the Board of Psychology, and the Board of Registered Nursing.
Physicians for Human Rights President Leonard Rubenstein has written a letter supporting the California bill that brilliantly summarizes the arguments for its approach of no direct participation in detainee interrogations. [Available as pdf here.]:
January 11, 2007
Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas
State Capitol, Room 4061
Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: Support for Resolution on Health Professional Involvement in Torture
Dear Senator Ridley-Thomas:
I am writing on behalf of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), an organization that for 20 years has been engaged in mobilizing the health professions to advance human rights. We strongly support the resolution you have offered. It is a critical step toward restoring the integrity of the health professions in the context of national security policy and renewing public confidence in these professions.
For its entire history, PHR has been engaged in documenting torture throughout the world and ending medical complicity in it. We also led the process of establishing international standards for medical documentation of torture (the Istanbul Protocol), which were endorsed by the UN General Assembly. In 1997 Physicians for Human Rights shared in the Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the Steering Committee of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
In recent years, we have been actively engaged in stopping torture by the United States and any medical participation in it. We issued a seminal report on the use of psychological torture, Break Them Down, and a medico-legal analysis of “enhanced” interrogation techniques, Leave No Marks (available on our web site, www.physiciansforhumanrights.org.) PHR has been particularly concerned about the role of health professionals as designers, implementers, and supervisors of systematic torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees. This role is in direct contravention of the foundational tenets of medical ethics and domestic and international human rights law and significantly undermines the health professional’s role as healer. We and our advisers have written analyses of the problem for the Journal of the American Medical Association and other scientific and legal journals, provided op-ed articles for major newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, and provided testimony to the U.S. Congress. We have also played an active role in providing guidance and advice to professional associations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association, in setting out the ethical standards applicable to the health profession in the context of interrogation.
It is this background that leads us to support the resolution you are offering. It states clearly that all health professionals should not participate in torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Moreover, it follows the approach the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association took after careful study, which holds that to be true to ethical commitments, physicians should not participate in the interrogation of individual detainees at all – even an interrogation that doesn’t involve torture or cruel treatment. These organizations adopted this stance in recognition that the traditional standard – no participation in torture and cruel treatment – is inadequate. I would like to review the reasons for this stance.
First, it is indisputable that even the most benign interrogation is designed to induce distress and anxiety. Interrogations conducted by the United States in the context of detention of terrorist suspects, significantly exacerbate this distress, and the potential for long-term harm, because they take place in a closed environment where human rights violations, including no due process and indefinite confinement, can easily occur. Engaging in any interrogation support in these circumstances, even where the interrogation is legal, is inconsistent with core ethical value of all the health professions in avoiding harm. This stance is similar to the ethical prohibition on physicians from participation in executions even in states where, as in California, capital punishment is legal.
Second, while it is often claimed that health professionals can play the role of a “safety officer” in interrogations, the investigations we and others have conducted have shown that the opposite is the case: in this role, health professionals in Behavioral Science Consultation Teams become the decision-makers in the calibration of the degree of pain and distress to be inflicted. This is shown in a forthright report issued by the Army Surgeon General in 2005, which on the one hand affirmed that health professionals act to assure that interrogations are safe, but expected them to advise interrogators when it was permissible to increase the distress and pain inflicted on a detainee.