Jewish groups join call for torture probe


WASHINGTON (JTA) — A number of Jewish groups, including the Reform movement, joined a call for an investigation into charges that U.S. medical personnel facilitated torture.

The call, under the auspices of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, comes in the wake of an analysis published this week by Physicians for Human Rights of declassified government documents. The analysis concluded that the Bush administration employed health professionals to determine if certain "enhanced interrogation" techniques crossed the line into torture.

According to the PHR report, physicians examined detainees who had been interrogated to assess the impact of techniques such as waterboarding — simulated drowning — or sleep deprivation, "ostensibly to keep" the techniques "from crossing the administration’s legal threshold of what it claimed constituted torture." The program "also served as an attempt to provide a basis for a legal defense against possible torture charges against those who carried out the interrogations," it said.

Under previous administrations, such experimentation had been confined, under controlled circumstances, to volunteers selected from U.S. service personnel, the PHR report said.

The intent may have been to keep the Bush administration from violating its definition of torture, the PHR report said, but the result was the violation of ancient ethical precepts that medical personnel should do no harm.

"The Bush administration’s legal framework to protect CIA interrogators from violating U.S. statutory and treaty obligations prohibiting torture effectively contravened well-established legal and ethical codes that, had they been enforced, should have protected prisoners against human experimentation, and should have prevented the ‘enhanced’ interrogation program from being initiated in the first place," it said.

Among the groups joining National Religious Campaign Against Torture’s call were the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and a number of individual synagogues.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday pressing for the investigation, Rabbi David Saperstein, the RAC’s director, invoked the religious precept of "building fences around the Torah" to keep nations from sliding into the commission of atrocities.

"We’re going to build boundaries, and one of those borders is, there are certain things we don’t participate in as serving professions," he said. "People have to believe in the trust of those professions."

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