Program Updates

PSOT hosts Somaly Mam and Healing Experts


On February 3, 2012 the Mayor’s Office facilitated a meeting between the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) and the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture (PSOT). At the meeting, Mayor’s Office Survivors of Human Trafficking Working Group (Working Group) members Allen Keller, MD, Program Director, and Hawthorne “Hawk” Smith, PhD, Clinical Director, sat down with SMF founder, and survivor of human trafficking, Somaly Mam to share experiences in healing and rebuilding lives. “There is much we can learn from each other’s work,” noted Dr. Keller, who earlier in his career worked as a medical volunteer in Cambodia. “Somaly Mam’s journey from trafficking victim to empowered survivor and advocate is nothing less than inspirational.”

For more on the visit: 

Needed - Not Just Needy, PSOT Publication in African Journal of Traumatic Stress

Needed - Not Just Need: Empowerment As A Therapeutic Tool in Treatment of Survivors of Torture and Refugee Trauma

Our Clinical Director Dr. Hawthorne Smith and Staff Psychologist Dr. Adeyinka Akinsulure-Smith have authored an article published in the June 2011 issue of the African Journal of Traumatic Stress.


Many Africans and others from all over the world, go to America, fleeing torture and other forms of organized violence from their home countries. Not only do many of these displaced people face culture shock, but the process of exile and application for asylum seeking often proves a big challenge and traumatic experience in itself. Yet many continue to suffer and also have to deal with the repercussions of their experiences. This paper presents the therapists’ views and experiences in treating exiled asylum seekers in New York City, many of whom are from Africa.

The paper reviews the ‘Introduction/Initiation’ phase to therapy to engagement of the client, the challenges faced by both the therapist and the client, the theoretical and philosophical rationale for the therapy, the techniques used, the process of therapy itself including group process, and finally the outcome of therapy. Actual case scenarios are presented with deep understanding of the dynamics involved and the humility and patience of the experienced therapist(s). The paper concludes by emphasizing the power of “empowerment of clients” to facilitate and enhance the (African) torture survivor to take charge and utilize his/her inherent strengths to engage in treatment for a better future of hope.

Link to the article:


"Traumatized Detainees" PSOT Letter to the New York Times

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Traumatized Detainees

January 16, 2012

To the Editor:

“My Guantánamo Nightmare,” by Lakhdar Boumediene (Sunday Review, Jan. 8), is a chilling reminder that most terrorist suspects imprisoned at Guantánamo were released without ever being charged — but not before suffering the physical and emotional pain of abuse such as stress positions, sleep deprivation and the gnawing uncertainty of indefinite detention.

In our 20 years of examining torture victims, we have seen few as traumatized as the several Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and black site (secret prison) detainees whom we evaluated. They deserve an apology and our help.

Sadly, now that President Obama has codified indefinite detention by signing the National Defense Authorization Act, there will be many more torture victims to come — both at our hands and the hands of despots who follow our example in the name of national security.

New York, Jan. 10, 2012

The writers are program director and policy coordinator, Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture.

Indefinite Detention & Guantanamo Anniversary Op-Ed

January 11, 2012 marked the tenth anniversary of the Guantánamo Detention Center where suspected terrorists have been indefinitely detained-often without charge and due process. In this op-ed written by PSOT’s Dr. Allen Keller and Yang-Yang Zhou, they reflect on the impact of torture, indefinite detention and U.S. policies.

The op-ed appeared in McClatchy Newspapers and their online news service.

Indefinite Detention: Instrument of Tyranny

When President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act on New Year's Eve, he codified policies of arbitrary and indefinite detention for terror suspects including possibly U.S. citizens. Alexander Hamilton referred to such policies as the "favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny." Based on our experience in evaluating and caring for victims of torture and human rights abuses from all over the world, Hamilton was right. 

Regardless of the law's applicability to U.S. citizens, indefinite detention in a military facility without charge can be tantamount to torture, causing profound health consequences.


January 11: National Day of Action Against Guantanamo


This Wednesday, January 11 marks the 10th anniversary of Guantanamo. More than 150 men still remain at Guantánamo, most held in indefinite detention without charge or trial. Those charged face unfair trial by military commission. 

A massive coalition of human rights groups are coming together for a day of action. Stand with us against torture and indefinite detention.

Option 1. Where: Gather at Lafayette Square at Noon, across from the White House.
We’ll start with a rally in front of the White House and then form a human chain down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.

When: Noon – 2PM Eastern on January 11, 2012– the 10th anniversary of Guantánamo prison.

Sign up at one of these sites:

Option 2. Sign the petition:

Doctors of the Dark Side: Screening and Panel


Thank you to Filmmaker Martha Davis, the panelists, and the over 300 attendees who came out last night, December 6, 2011, for the NYU Screening and Panel of the documentary Doctors of the Dark Side.

For more information on the film, please visit:

To learn what you can do to end medical participation in U.S. torture, please visit:

NYTimes features a Nigerian Journalist and Former Client


'From Safety of New York, Reporting on Distant Home," (November 19, 2011) features the story of Omoyele Sowore, a Nigerian journalist who was tortured by pro-government forces. He now lives and reports with safety in New York.

Link to the article

Photo credit: Chester Higgins Jr.

PSOT and colleagues testify at NY Senate Forum


On Tuesday, November 15, 2011, Drs. Allen Keller and Kate Porterfield of PSOT, joined by colleagues from Physicians for Human Rights, U.S. Armed Forces, NYCLU, The Center for Justice and Accountability, and other organizations testified at a Senate Public Hearing hosted by Senator Thomas Duane in support of the Duane-Gottfried Anti-Torture legislation, which would prohibit health professionals from participating in torture.

The testimonies and questions by Senator Duane and Assemblymember Gottfried highlighted several key points: health professionals are held to the standard of "do no harm," medical participation in torture ruptures the public trust essential to the practice of medicine, and finally, this groundbreaking legislation would not only hold certain individuals accountable but it would also provide a necessary tool for health professionals to refuse unethical orders.  

Dr. Allen Keller presents at UN Panel: Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors


On Tuesday, October 18, 2011, Dr. Keller was invited to speak at an expert panel discussion at the United Nations titled Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors: How Holistic Treatment can Heal Wounds and Contribute to Justice and Prevention. 

The event was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the UN in New York and International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT).

Dr. Keller expressed the need for holistic (medical, mental health, and social services) care in the rehabilitation of torture survivors. He elaborated on the role of doctors in both treating and documenting torture.  

The panel was moderated by H.E. Ambassador Carsten Staur, Permanent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations. Other panelists included Juan E Mendez (UN Special Rapporteur on Torture), Claudio Grossmann (Chair of the UN Committee against Torture), Malcolm Evans (Chair of the UN Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture), Brita Sydhoff (Secretary General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims), and Raphael Mfuambote Kiama (Survivors Speak OUT network). 

To watch the webcast:

Photo Credits: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Photos from 2011 Benefit


A big Thank You to attendees, our Advisory Board, clients who participated and told their stories, and special guest Allan Chernoff for making our 2011 Benefit a huge success. More photos can be found on our facebook page:

 Photo credits: Jonathan R. Tan

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