Doctors, psychologists & other health professionals aided CIA & military in torturing detainees

Doctors, psychologists, and other health professionals helped the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. military develop and carry out harsh interrogation techniques – such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress postures, prolonged exposure to cold, and force-feeding – that amount to torture on detainees held in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and CIA’s “black” prisons, according to a report released yesterday. 

The Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers, which was convened by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations, found that medical and mental health professionals participated in the interrogation, maltreatment, and even torture of detainees in violation of their professional ethical codes, which explicitly ban doctors from participating in interrogations or conducting force-feeding and oblige them to protect prisoners from “severe harm”.

Read more: The Constitution Project report concludes torture was not more effective than humane interrogation techniques

“Military and intelligence-agency physicians and other health professional, particularly psychologists, became involved in the design and administration of…harsh treatment and torture – in clear conflict with established international and ethical professional principles and laws,” according to the task force’s report “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the ‘War on Terror'”. The health professionals who were involved include physicians, psychologists, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, medics, and health care technicians.

The task force concluded that the harsh interrogation techniques on detainees began almost immediately after 9/11. In 2003, the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, staffed by doctors, developed “medical guidelines” that allowed interrogators to expose a detainee to cold temperature until “just at the point where hypothermia would set in”, loud noises to just “before permanent hearing loss would occur”, and force the detainee to remain in stress positions up to 48 hours. The medical personnel were also present at CIA interrogations where waterboarding took place and the agency’s guideline recommended “keeping resuscitation equipment and supplies for an emergency tracheotomy on hand” in case the detainee was waterboarded to an extent that he became “unresponsive”.

The CIA’s interrogation were adopted by the U.S. military, particularly on detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Department of Defense formed its Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) in 2003 to refine the harsh interrogation techniques introduced by the CIA. The BSCTs, which are made up of psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health personnels, recommended military interrogators use certain techniques such as “sleep and sensory deprivation, exposures to extremes of noises and temperatures, stress positions, and other enhanced methods” that are widely condemned as cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments by human rights and professional medical organizations.

But according to the task force, the BSCTs’ chief purpose was to conduct psychological evaluations and reviews of detainees’ medical records to help military interrogators exploit the detainees’ vulnerabilities to “gain intelligence”.

“Members of the BSCTs advised on interrogation strategies before and during interrogations, including advising interrogators on when to increase the harshness of the interrogation. Although the records of interrogations remain classified, there is evidence that BSCTs urged interrogators to increase the intensity of interrogation,” according to the report.

Even worse, the mental health professionals also “advised intelligence and detention officials on conditions of confinement that would enhance capture shock, dislocate expectations, foster dependence, and support exploitation of detainees” all in the name of intelligence-gathering.

Some of their recommendations to worsen the detainees’ conditions of confinement included “using fans and generators to create white noise as a form of psychological pressure; restricting some detainees to no more than four hours of sleep a day; depriving them of basic living items – officially named ‘comfort items’ – such as sheets, blankets, mattresses, and washcloths; and controlling their access to the Koran”, according to the report.

Furthermore, military interrogators at Guantanamo have unfettered access to the detainees’ medical and psychological records, which they could use to “exploit” the detainees’ vulnerabilities during interrogations. As a result, many Guantanamo detainees would forgo necessary medical care “out of reasonable fear that their medical information would be passed on to interrogators”, the report noted. Some detainees who did receive medical care at Guantanamo were subjected to “highly questionable” practices such as the over-use of mefloquine, an anti-malarial drug that causes hallucinations and “significant mental side effects”.

The task force pointed out that the presence of medical professionals at interrogations – even serving as so-called “safety officers” – is unethical because their mere presence can “signal approval of abusive practices as long as the health professional raises no objection”.

“The DOD wants its behavioral science consultants to have professional qualifications, including a license for clinical practice in psychology or forensic psychiatry, but then excludes them from the full panoply of ethical norms that govern their professions and that they committed to uphold,” the task force stated.

The report also found that doctors and nurses in Guantanamo have force-fed detainees on hunger strikes in protest of their harsh treatments and indefinite confinement, violating the World Medical Association’s ethical requirement that “physicians should never force-feed competent, non-suicidal, informed hunger strikers.”

“Physicians, nurses, and possibly other medical personnel began routinely inserting nasogastric tubes through the detainees’ noses into their stomachs…They administered liquid food through the tube and eventually removed the tube. Detainees who resisted were forcibly restrained and the nasogastric tube was forcibly inserted,” the report described. And as more and more detainees joined the hunger strikes, the military introduced the “unprecedented” use of “special chairs with straps to restrain the detainees’ hands, feet, forehead, and chest”, where detainees are kept for 60 to 90 minutes to be force-fed.

“The Task Force concludes that the practice is used as a punitive measure to induce prisoners to give up their protests. It is clear to the Task Force that the policy of force-feeding deviates from standard, accepted medical and ethical treatment of hunger strikers and, depending on the individual circumstances, amounts to either torture or inhumane and degrading treatment,” according to the report. “Military physicians, directed by DOD regulations and detention facility authorities, have participated in force-feeding in violation of their ethical principles and standards of care. The force-feeding policies undercut necessary, ongoing physician-patient relationships and independent medical judgment.”

The task force has called on the U.S. military to change its policies and compel all doctors and health care professionals to adhere to the ethical principles of U.S. and international medical associations pertaining to detainee treatment. The task force has also urged state medical licensing associations and boards to hold health care professionals accountable for violating their code of ethics, such as suspending their license to practice medicine.

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One Comment on “Doctors, psychologists & other health professionals aided CIA & military in torturing detainees

  1. Pingback: AP: CIA turned former Guantanamo detainees into spies for U.S. | What The Folly?!

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