Transcript: Testimony by Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis on closing Guantanamo – July 24, 2013

Partial transcript of the testimony by U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis (Ret.), former Army Medical Corp Officer, Psychiatrist, and Adjunct Professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in the Military Medical Department, on “Closing Guantanamo: The National Security, Fiscal and Human Rights Implications.” The hearing was held before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on July 24, 2013.

…I’m board certified in general psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry. I have extensive experience in treatment, research, teaching, administration, commanded, retired at the rank of Brigadier General, commanded medical activities, medical centers, and medical regions.

The federal courts and the office of military commissions have qualified me as a psychiatric and medical expert.

I’ve had multiple interviews – multiple interviews with detainees – advised attorneys, and have spent cumulatively three months at Guantanamo over the past four and a half years.

I currently provide consultation and expert testimony as needed on seven current or former detainees. I have reviewed medical intelligence and military files of nearly 50.

The treatment of hunger strikers at Guantanamo compromises the core ethical values of our medical profession.

The AMA [American Medical Association] has long endorsed the principal that every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention.

The World Medical Association and the International Red Cross have determined that forced-feeding through the use of restraints is not only an ethical violation but contravenes common Article III of the Geneva Conventions.

Forced-feeding completely undermines the physician-patient relationship by destroying the trust that is essential for all medical treatments, including medical issues unrelated to forced-feeding. It engages physicians in the use of force against detainees.

At Guantanamo, physicians and nurses have become part of the command apparatus that uses punitive and painful methods to break the hunger strikes in the use of restraint chairs, dry cells, forced cell extractions and denial of communal privileges.

The plain truth is that forced-feeding violates medical ethics and international legal obligations, and nothing claimed in the name of defending our country can justify cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of another man or woman.

The detention facilities at Guantanamo diminish America’s standing among our allies and put at question our true values.

The underlying issues that contributed to the hunger strike must be addressed, including ending the harsh conditions of confinement that have been put into place this year.

Statements in the media leave the impression that the detainees are highly trained soldiers eager to get back on the battlefield. The vast majority of these men do not fit the picture of the worst of the worst.

These detainees pale in comparison to violent prisoners accused of serious felonies or murders that I have seen and evaluated in this country.

To be clear, if any detainee has committed a crime, I strongly believe that they should be charged, prosecuted, and convicted and punished accordingly.

The fact is, however, that most of these detainees have not been charged.

The restrictive and oppressive conditions undermine our national security objectives. Forced feeding must end. It is unethical, an affront to human dignity, a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in violation of our Geneva Conventions obligations.

My recommendations include:

First, the underlying issues that contributed to the hunger strike must be resolved, including expeditious release.

Second, detainees should not be punished for engaging in hunger strikes.

Third, all directives, orders, and protocols provide explicitly or implicitly that health professionals act as adjuncts of security officials must be rescinded. Trust in the medical staff by detainees has been so deeply compromised. Independent doctors and nurses should be brought in.

Fourth, the aging detainees require more complicated and sophisticated medical care. The regular rotation of clinical staff impedes continuity of care, diagnosis, and treatment. It places dedicated and professional military clinicians in untenable circumstances of providing sub-optimal treatment to an increasingly ill population. It is not fair to the doctors, nurses, or detainees.

Thank you for the privilege of speaking to you.


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