The Guardian (UK)Sarah Bosely
November 4, 2013.
Doctors were asked to torture detainees for intelligence gathering, and unethical practices continue, review concludes
An al-Qaida detainee at Guantanamo Bay in 2002: the DoD has taken steps to
address concerns over practices at the prison in recent years.
(Photograph: Shane T Mccoy/PA)
Doctors and psychologists working for the US military violated the ethical codes of their profession under instruction from the defence department and the CIA to become involved in the torture and degrading treatment of suspected terrorists, an investigation has concluded.
The report of the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres concludes that after 9/11, health professionals working with the military and intelligence services "designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees".
Medical professionals were in effect told that their ethical mantra "first do no harm" did not apply, because they were not treating people who were ill.
The report lays blame primarily on the defence department (DoD) and the CIA, which required their healthcare staff to put aside any scruples in the interests of intelligence gathering and security practices that caused severe harm to detainees, from waterboarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding.
The two-year review by the 19-member taskforce, Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, supported by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Open Society Foundations, says that the DoD termed those involved in interrogation "safety officers" rather than doctors. Doctors and nurses were required to participate in the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, against the rules of the World Medical Association and the American Medical Association. Doctors and psychologists working for the DoD were required to breach patient confidentiality and share what they knew of the prisoner's physical and psychological condition with interrogators and were used as interrogators themselves. They also failed to comply with recommendations from the army surgeon general on reporting abuse of detainees.
The CIA's office of medical services played a critical role in advising the justice department that "enhanced interrogation" methods, such as extended sleep deprivation and waterboarding, which are recognised as forms of torture, were medically acceptable. CIA medical personnel were present when waterboarding was taking place, the taskforce says.
Although the DoD has taken steps to address concerns over practices at Guantánamo Bay in recent years, and the CIA has said it no longer has suspects in detention, the taskforce says that these "changed roles for health professionals and anaemic ethical standards" remain.
"The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve," said Dr Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University and member of the taskforce.
*****Comment: This report only confirms what was known all along. The collusion of medical personnel in torture is also not a new phenomenon in America's sordid disregard for human rights - a disregard that extends way back past the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947.
The question now is how much weight this report carries. Will the professional bodies that license these folks to practice go after the culprits and revoke their licenses?
Don't hold your breath.
This report will be ignored and the government authorities are likely to launch their own investigation to exonerate the CIA and the offending parties.
The US does not need reform - it needs a revolution of values and more.