US military doctors 'designed torture methods' for detainees

Nov 4, 2013

Medical professionals at Guantanamo Bay and war bases accused of violating oath to 'do no harm'

Michelle Shephard-Pool/Getty Images

DOCTORS working with the US military have been accused of violating their oath to "do no harm" by allegedly taking part in systematic torture of terror suspects.

Physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists designed and participated in "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees" in the decade after 9/11, according to a report published today.

An independent panel of 19 military, ethics, medical and legal experts – named the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres – spent two years reviewing public records on the US military's treatment of combat detainees at Guantanamo Bay, as well as those at prisons on American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The report, entitled 'Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror', lays the blame squarely at the door of the Department of Defense and the CIA, reports The Guardian. Dr Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University and a member of the task force, has described the findings as a "a big, big striking horror".

Here are some of the main claims to come out of the report:

  • Designing torture techniques: Doctors allegedly advised the military on how best to deploy recognised forms of torture – including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and sensory overloading – to get information out of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. In one case, a psychologist – who previously trained US troops to hold up against torture – advised on how to enhance interrogation to "induce hopelessness" and "psychologically dislocate" the suspect. Methods included isolation and squatting positions for "long periods of time".
  • Participating in abuse: Psychologists were said to be used as interrogators, while military physicians and other health professionals working for the CIA allegedly "engaged in many of the same kinds of practices as their US Army counterparts, and in addition participated in the design, use and monitoring of waterboarding".
  • Force-feeding detainees: The report says that in direct breach of the rules of the World Medical Association and the American Medical Association, doctors were required to force-feed patients who were engaged in a hunger strike.
  •  Breaching confidentiality: Doctors and psychologists working for the Department of Defense allegedly breached patient confidentiality by sharing prisoners' medical information with interrogators.
  • Failing to report abuse: Health professionals also failed to comply with recommendations from the Army Surgeon General on reporting abuse of detainees.

A spokesman for the Department of Defense told NBC News that the allegations were "wholly absurd", while a Pentagon spokesman said the report contained unsubstantiated conclusions based on limited evidence discounted by previous investigations. Although the worst violations cited in the report occurred before 2006, the taskforce insists that doctors are still required to force-feed detainees and share medical information with interrogators, while detainees are not permitted to receive treatment for the distress caused by their torture.

It has called for a full investigation of medical practices in US detention facilities.

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