Doctors and nurses tasked with monitoring the health of terror suspects were complicit in abuses committed at prisons run by the Pentagon and the CIA, an independent report said.
The Defence Department and the CIA demanded that the healthcare personnel “collaborate in intelligence gathering and security practices in a way that inflicted severe harm on detainees in US custody”, according to the two-year study by the Institute of Medicine and the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations.
Medical professionals helped design, enable, and participate in “torture and cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment” of detainees, the report said.
Collaboration at US prisons in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and the CIA secret detention sites began after the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“It’s clear that in the name of national security, the military trumped (the Hippocratic Oath), and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice,” said study co-author Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University.
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.
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.
The report, conducted by two dozen military, ethics, medical, public health, and legal experts, calls on the Senate intelligence committee to fully investigate medical practices at the detention sites.
Co-author Leonard Rubenstein of Johns Hopkins University focused on force-feeding on Guantanamo Bay’s hunger strikers, as well as CIA agents’ use of harsh interrogation methods and simulated drowning known as waterboarding at secret sites.
“Abuse of detainees and health professional participation in this practice is not behind us as a country.”
The authors urged the Pentagon and CIA to follow standards of conduct that would let medical personnel adhere to their ethical principles so they could later heal detainees they meet. Both the CIA and the Pentagon rejected the findings.
The report “contains serious inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions”, said CIA public affairs chief Dean Boyd. “It’s important to underscore that the CIA does not have any detainees in its custody and President Obama terminated the Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Programme by executive order in 2009.”
Obama signed an executive order shortly after taking office in 2009 that banned interrogation techniques used under his predecessor George W Bush that critics say amount to torture. Although the president has not banned extraordinary rendition, new rules prevent suspects from being tortured before they are transferred to a different country for interrogation, trial, or detention.
Obama also established a task force to review interrogation and transfer policies and issue recommendations, but the group’s 2009 report remains classified.
Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale said none of the critics of prisoner care “have had actual access to the detainees, their medical records”, or the procedures at the Guantanamo detention camp. According to Breasseale, Guantanamo’s doctors and nurses are “consummate professionals working under terrifically stressful conditions, far from home and their families, and with patients who have been extraordinarily violent”.
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