When U.S. officials at Guantanamo last year sanctioned the force-feeding of 106 detainees on hunger strike -- almost two-thirds of the detainee population -- the American public was outraged. Leaders in the scientific and medical communities opposed the policy of force-feeding as a breach of medical ethics, which may amount to torture in some cases. The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing featuring testimony about the harms of force-feeding. The Obama administration responded swiftly -- not by revising its policies to ban the harmful and unethical practice, but by withholding information about the number of detainees on hunger strike. Force-feeding is reportedly still being used against non-consenting detainees, but the lack of information has turned the media away from the issue and left the American public in the dark.
Hiding problems never solves them. Transparency about past and present abuses is necessary to address victims' needs and prevent such acts from happening again.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will soon choose between hiding past crimes or bringing them to light. The committee will vote on whether to declassify and release parts of a comprehensive report on the CIA's detention and interrogation practices. Those familiar with the report claim that it includes damning information about torture exacted upon detainees and states that such crimes did not promote the security of the American public.
The CIA is working tirelessly to keep this information hidden and to intimidate the very individuals and institutions tasked with its oversight. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, addressed her colleagues with an impassioned speech that addressed the CIA's obstructions of the committee's investigation. She reiterated her desire to declassify and release parts of the 6,300-page report, which details a program she described as "un-American and brutal."
Torture can leave lasting marks on its victims. At Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), we have documented the long-term effects of physical and psychological torture and other ill-treatment on detainees. These crimes have devastating short- and long-term effects on victims, including severe depression, delusions, memory loss, thoughts of suicide, and emotional problems. Individuals in Guantánamo, including the dozens cleared for release, face indefinite detention. Even though there have been a number of transfers of detainees out of the facility over recent months, those who remain are uncertain about when, if ever, they will be released. The indefinite nature of detention, combined with the abuse endured during detention, compounds the negative health effects.
Victims of torture endure its consequences -- so must the American public. Crimes of torture should no longer remain in the shadows of the past. While addressing such a difficult period in our recent history may be challenging, acknowledgment of past crimes is a necessary step to rehabilitating victims and creating institutional changes that prevent such crimes in the future.
As a country, we can choose a path of shadows and ignorance, and ensure that past abuses remain hidden and out of public discourse -- or we can choose a path of transparency and truth. Let's press the members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to make the right choice.