Doctors presence unethical in US torture of detainees

A group of experts in medicine, law and ethics has issued a blistering report that accuses the United States government of directing doctors, nurses and psychologists, among others, to ignore their professional codes of ethics and participate in the abuse of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The report was published Monday by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession, an ethics group based at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Open Society Foundations, a pro-democracy network founded by the billionaire George Soros.
The authors were part of a 19-member task force that based its findings on a two-year review of public information. The sources included documents released by the government, news reports, and books and articles from professional journals.
Among the abuses cited in the report are doctors’ force-feeding of hunger strikers by pushing feeding tubes into their noses and down their throats. The task force also suggested that medical personnel ignored their duty to report evidence of beatings or torture of detainees, and that the Defense Department “improperly designated licensed health professionals to use their professional skills to interrogate detainees as military combatants, a status incompatible with licensing.”
The panel, the Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers, is not the first to protest what it said were violations of medical ethics at detention sites. Other groups that have described abuses include Physicians for Human Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
According to the new report, the C.I.A.’s Office of Medical Services drew up guidelines that called for medical personnel to be present during interrogations to ensure that no “serious or permanent harm” resulted. For instance, exposure to cold was to be stopped just before hypothermia was likely to set in, and loud noise was to be halted just before permanent hearing damage would occur.
The report claims that C.I.A. medical personnel were present during waterboarding, and that “the guidelines advised keeping resuscitation equipment and supplies for an emergency tracheotomy on hand.”
The military, it says, has adopted some of the interrogation techniques that the C.I.A. developed, including the use of doctors and psychologists to help with interrogations.
The report is particularly critical of the American Psychological Association for allowing psychologists to participate in interrogations.
The military has long employed psychologists in its “behavioral science consultation teams,” known as Biscuits, to assist with interrogations. Little is known about these teams, except that they study detainees, suggest lines of questioning and help decide when tactics are too harsh and when it is time to push harder.
“What we’d like to see from the association is a prohibition saying that psychologists cannot participate in any individual interrogation of a detainee,” said Steven J. Reisner, the only psychologist on the task force that produced the report.
The association’s members have been debating its ethics guidelines regarding interrogation for years. In 2008, in documents alleging abuse, lawyers for a detainee at Guantánamo Bay singled out a psychologist as a critical player. At the time, the guidelines stated that it was “consistent with the A.P.A. ethics code for psychologists to serve in consultative roles to interrogation and information-gathering processes for national-security-related purposes” — as long as the interrogation did not involve any of 19 coercive procedures, including the use of hoods, waterboarding and physical assault.
Later that year, the membership voted to prohibit any consultation in interrogations at Guantánamo or other so-called black sites run by the C.I.A.
In a statement released on Monday, the association said it supported many of the recommendations in the report, including ethics training for psychologists working with the military and intelligence services. But, it added, the association has already issued repeated statements that “have forbidden psychologists from perpetrating or supporting torture; obligated psychologists to report torture and abuse; and prohibited specific enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding.”

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