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Healthcare Professionals Involvement in US Torture

by Stephen Lendman Friday, Nov. 08, 2013 at 8:21 PM


Healthcare Professionals Involvement in US Torture

by Stephen Lendman

On November 4, an independent panel of military, ethics, medical, public health, and legal experts said Pentagon and CIA officials directed doctors and psychologist to ignore medical ethics, principles and standards.

Post-9/11, the Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers said they collaborate in securing intelligence.

"(D)esigning, participating in, and enabling torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment" substituted for do no harm. Established practices continue.

Dr. Gerald Thomson is Columbia University Professor of Medicine Emeritus. He's duly outraged.   

"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," he said.

"It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice."

"We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again."

The Task Force's report is titled "Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror. More on it below.

Ethics Abandoned isn't the first report on healthcare professionals abandoning their oath to do no harm.

In April 2009, a confidential February 2007 ICRC torture report was released. It's titled "ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen 'High Value Detainees' in CIA Custody."

It discusses harsh and abusive treatment. It does so from time of arrest, detention, transfer, and incarceration at Guantanamo.

It explains the involvement of healthcare professionals. It covers:

• their monitoring of and direct participation in torture procedures;

• instructing interrogators to continue, adjust, or stop certain ones;

• informing detainees that medical treatment depended on their cooperation;

• performing medical checks before and after each torture session; and

• treating the effects of torture as well as ailments and injuries during incarceration.

Condoning or participating in torture grossly violates medical ethics. Doing so is strictly prohibited.

The World Medical Association (WMA) Declaration of Tokyo "Guidelines for Physicians Concerning Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Relation to Detention and Imprisonment" states:

In all cases at all times, "physician(s) shall not countenance, condone or participate in" torture or any other form of abuse.

They "shall not use nor allow to be used (their) medical knowledge or skills, or health information" to aid abusive interrogations in any way.

They "shall not be present during any procedure during which torture or any other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is used or threatened."

They "must have complete clinical independence" in treating persons entrusted to their care.

WMA encourages the international community and practicing physicians to support medical professionals who face "threats or reprisals resulting from a refusal to condone" all forms of torture and abuse.

According to Protocol I of the 1949 Geneva Conventions:

"Persons engaged in medical activities shall neither be compelled to perform acts or to carry out work contrary to, nor be compelled to refrain from acts required by, the rules of medical ethics or other rules designed for the benefit of the wounded and sick, or this Protocol."

In July 2006, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) published a report titled, "Report on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment of Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

It included evidence of medical personnel involvement in torture. Eyewitness testimonies confirmed it. So did prisoners CCR lawyers interviewed.

International law is clear and unequivocal. The UN Convention Against Torture prohibits it at all times, under all circumstances, with no allowed exceptions.

Third Geneva bans "violence to life and person (as well as) humiliating and degrading treatment." It mandates proper medical care.

Fourth Geneva affords the same rights to civilians in times of war. The federal anti-torture statute (18 USC, 2340A) prohibits its use.

It defines is as "an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering...upon another person within his custody or physical control."

Constitutional law prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment.  

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) bans cruelty, oppression, actions intended to degrade or humiliate, and physical, menacing, and threatening assaults.

The US War Crimes Act prohibits grave Geneva breaches.

Geneva's Common Article III prohibits "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture (as well as) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."

It doesn't matter. Torture remains official US policy. Medical professionals are criminally involved.

The Task Force report is based on two years research. Its 19 members reviewed public domain records.

Department of Defense and CIA policies "institutionalized a variety of interventions by military and intelligence agency doctors and psychologists that breach ethical standards to promote well-being and avoid harm." They include:

• "Involvement in abusive interrogation; consulting on conditions of confinement to increase the disorientation and anxiety of detainees;

• Using medical information for interrogation purposes; and

• Force-feeding of hunger strikers."

Vital medical care was denied. Healthcare professionals "substantially deviate from ethical standards traditionally applied to civilian medical personnel."

Grave breaches include:

• "Excus(ing) violations of ethical standards by inappropriately characterizing health professionals engaged in interrogation as 'safety officers;'

• Implement(ing) rules that permitted medical and psychological information obtained by health professionals to be used in interrogations;

• Requir(ing) physicians and nurses to forgo their independent medical judgment and counseling roles, as well as to force-feed competent detainees engaged in hunger strikes even though this is forbidden by the World Medical Association and the American Medical Association;

• Improperly designat(ing) licensed health professionals to use their professional skills to interrogate detainees as military combatants, a status incompatible with licensing; and

• Fail(ing) to uphold recommendations by the Army Surgeon General to adopt international standards for medical reporting of abuse against detainees."

CIA Office of Medical Services personnel were criminally involved in approving so-called "enhanced interrogation" methods (aka torture and other forms of abuse).

The Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) endorsed the Task Force's report. IMAP promotes professionalism in medicine.

It conducts research on past, present and future professionalism roles. It wants it to be relevant to physicians, medical organization leaders, policy analysts, public officials and consumers.

Its president, David Rothman said:

"Putting on a uniform does not and should not abrogate the fundamental principles of medical professionalism."

" 'Do no harm' and 'put patient interest first' must apply to all physicians regardless of where they practice."

Task Force members say US agencies continue "follow(ing) policies that undermine standards of professional conduct."

They do so with regard to interrogations, hunger strikes, and reporting abuse. Ethical breaches include:

• "issuing protocols requiring doctors and nurses to participate in the force-feeding of detainees, including forced extensive bodily restraints for up to two hours twice a day;

• enabling interrogators access to medical and psychological information about detainees for exploitation by interrogators; and

• permitting clinical care for detainees to suffer from the inability or failure of clinicians to address causes of detainee distress from torture."

Task Force member Leonard Rubenstein is a Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Center for Human Rights and Berman Institute of Bioethics legal scholar.

"Abuse of detainees, and health professional participation in this practice, is not behind us as a country," he said.

"Force-feeding by physicians in violation of ethical standards is illustrative of a much broader legacy in which medical professionalism has been undermined."

Task Force members urge current unethical practices be fully and independently investigated.

They call for establishing codes of conduct complying fully with proper medical and psychological practices.

They want what they're not likely to get. It bears repeating. Torture is official US policy.

Guantanamo is the tip of the iceberg. America maintains torture prison black sites. It does so globally. Abusive practices continue out of sight and mind.

Washington is by far the world's leading human rights abuser. It's unaccountable. Media scoundrels ignore it.

America gets away with the worst kinds of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Obama exceeds the worst of George Bush.

He bears full responsibility for unspeakable crimes against humanity. They continue out-of-control on his watch.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at

His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."

Visit his blog site at

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs Fridays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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