Torture archives come to University library

It holds 60,000 documents detailing prison abuse and torture.

Kathryn Nelson

Allegations of torture and degrading treatment of detainees held in U.S.-run prisons have caused outrage from the national and international community alike.

With the help of Steven Miles, University professor of medicine and bioethics, the Human Rights Library made more than 60,000 government documents, autopsy reports and witness statements available to the public. The archive details instances of cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment of detainees held in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

In 2006, Miles wrote, “Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror” about the involvement of medical professionals in the use of torture.

Professor and co-director of the Human Rights Center and Library David Weissbrodt said Miles approached him about adding the material he used to research his book to the library system.

Weissbrodt said the Human Rights Library receives more than 200,000 unique visitors a month from at least 150 different countries, making it a good choice for such an archive.

Web developer Leah Marks created the Web site, which holds the thousands of documents. Marks called it a groundbreaking endeavor and said, “It’s the biggest and most controversial project I’ve worked on.”

It took several months to organize all the material, but having all the resources in one location makes it much easier to research.

By using government documents, Marks said the archive illustrates the disparity of “what they’re telling us and what’s documented.”

Center for torture victims

Nestled near the superblock, on East River Road, a distinctive house stands out next to the crowded dormitories.

The Center for Victims of Torture leases the home from the University and uses it as a rehabilitation area for those who have experienced acts of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

CVT communications director Holly Ziemer said two-thirds of the clients are refugees and people seeking asylum. They all experienced some form of torture, and many suffer from both physical and mental trauma.

Ziemer said many asylum-seekers come to the United States believing the government will protect them.

But when graphic photographs of prisoner abuse surfaced from Abu Ghraib, many of CVT’s clients were extremely frightened and disturbed, she said.

Miles’ new archive “shows clearly that the U.S. has engaged in torture and cruelty,” Ziemer said.

The torture caused many other countries to justify using degrading treatment as well, she said.

“Torture is about stripping them of their identity, dehumanizing them,” Ziemer said.

Both Weissbrodt and Marks said they only received positive feedback about the archive. Miles, on the other hand, said the Department of Defense dismissed his book but was unable to find any factual errors.

“By using the government’s own documents, it’s very hard for them to reject the material,” he said in a Minnesota Daily interview in March.