10/06/2008 - 6:35am
California becomes first U.S. State to ban Torture
Posted by Allison Rokke
On August 13, 2008 the state of California passed Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 19 , which effectively prevents any California healthcare professional from engaging in torture, as defined by international standards.
The resolution comes in reaction to President Bush's March veto of a bill passed by Congress that would have amounted to a nationwide ban on torture.
The need for the resolution was articulated by its author Ridley-Thomas , who stated that "the U.S. Department of Defense has failed to oversee the ethical conduct of California licensed health professionals related to torture."
By passing this bill, the state of California has withdrawn its tacit consent of U.S. torture practices in areas such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
Since the passage of SJR 19, the state medical boards have informed all California healthcare professionals that they are obligated under both domestic and international law to treat all prisoners and detainees in accordance with those laws.
In addition to this, the state of California further demanded that the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense remove California-licensed healthcare professionals from settings in which they might be asked to torture or abuse detainees.
No longer will California doctors and psychologists be allowed to engage in "coercive, rough or enhanced" interrogation methods. Now - cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners is expressly outlawed.
Any California healthcare professional found to be engaging in such treatment of prisoners will face certain prosecution by the State.
SJR 19 exists as a vehicle to inform professionals of their legal and ethical obligations with respect to torture. A subject, studies have shown, that most healthcare professionals are ill-informed about. The principle 'do no harm' may have been lost during the War on Terror for some, but California is determined to remind its citizens that it still applies to them.
More than an ethical reminder, the bill will also be a tool. SJR 19 gives professionals legal reference to be able to remove themselves from abusive situations, even if a commanding officer orders them to continue.
The President may be able to veto a nationwide ban on torture, but states have power too. By virtue of the tenth amendment , states have traditionally held the power to license and regulate their own health professionals.
The resolution was authored by Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas of Los Angeles who commented , "Torture is much more than a political issue. It is an ethical, moral and spiritual issue that has not only become a shame, but it is an evil in our midst. Right-minded Americans understand that to protect foreign prisoners of war from torture, also protects the rights of our citizens if they become war prisoners."
Ridley-Thomas concluded his endorsement of the bill with this remark, "In this period of international crisis, we must be ever reminded of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated so emphatically, 'An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
By passing SJR 19, California has declared its commitment to international law with respect to torture, and has pioneered the way for other states to do the same.
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