Doctors involved in Gitmo interrogations

Just as the White House has rejected creation of an independent commission to investigate abuses at Gitmo and elsewhere (Reuters, June 21), comes this deeply disturbing news. It is (as we’ve recently noted) taboo to say this sort of thing, but how is the analogy to the Nazi doctors avoidable? No, it is not the same as Mengele. The point is, you stand up and point out the similarity before it gets to that level of evil. The fact that the analogy is taboo, ironically, just abets the Nazification of the USA. Thanks to TruthOut for passing this one along.

Health Professionals Involved in Guantánamo Interrogations
By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay News

Wednesday 22 June 2005

Doctors compromised medical ethics, article claims.

Acting in contradiction to medical ethics, physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists have played an active role in the interrogations of foreign detainees in the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, new research claims.

The revelations, which will appear in the July 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, were released online Wednesday night.

According to the report, prisoners do not have any medical confidentiality, which allows medical personnel to use what they have learned to aid in interrogations.

“Contrary to what the Bush administration has said, the rule is no confidentiality for the detainees at Guantánamo,” said study co-author Dr. M. Gregg Bloche, a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder said as recently as last week that confidentiality protections and exceptions were analogous to those enjoyed by American citizens.”

However, there is a standing order that has not previously been reported, he said. Dated August 2002, the order says that not only is there no medical confidentiality, but health-care providers must report any information of potential interest to medical and non-medical personnel at Guantánamo, he added.

“In addition, in a systematic fashion, medical information was employed by behavioral science consultants to support the interrogation process,” Bloche said. “These behavioral scientists, typically a psychiatrist and psychologist, were assigned to a Behavioral Science Consultation Team.”

These consultants had access to medical records and used them to develop profiles that could be used to help interrogators, Bloche said.

“The American people have not been leveled with,” Bloche said. “We need to know a lot more, including the strategies for crafting interrogation tactics. Also, it’s important that we separate the process of clinical caregiving from the process of interrogation.”

To make medical information available for interrogation makes every health-care provider part of a network of surveillance, Bloche said. “That’s going way too far. Clinical information should not be made available to those planning an interrogation,” he added.

Bloche believes there is a narrow role for psychologists in developing lawful interrogation strategies. “But given what’s been widely reported about the kind of tactics used at Guantanamo, it’s plain that the tactics went too far. And we have learned that the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams were pervasively involved.”

Not only is there probable cause to suspect that the members of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams were complicit, Bloche said, “but the lack of confidentially makes clinical caregivers participants in this pervasive process.”

“We need a fuller, thorough and independent inquiry for the abuses at Guantánamo,” Bloche said. “As a part of that inquiry, there should be an inquest into the ways in which abuse of interrogation practices were devised.”

Although the Bush administration has said the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply to the prisoners in Guantánamo, Bloche contended, it also said prisoners would be treated in accordance with those conventions.

“Plainly, the administration has violated that,” he said. “It’s clear that the lack of protection of medical confidentiality violated Geneva rules.”

On Tuesday, the White House rejected the creation of an independent commission to investigate allegations of detainee abuse by military personnel at Guantánamo and elsewhere, according to a Washington Post report. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the Pentagon has launched 10 major investigations into abuse allegations, and that the Defense Department would continue to investigate any new allegations.

In addition, the Pentagon last week issued new guidelines for medical personnel that says their only involvement in treating detainees is to “evaluate, protect or improve their physical and mental health.” According to an Associated Press report, the guidelines, issued by Assistant Defense Secretary Winkenwerder, also said that doctors and experts – such as the psychologists, profilers and forensic pathologists who advise interrogators – are not to be involved in treating detainees, but must uphold the principles of humane treatment.

Speaking to reporters June 16, Winkenwerder could not say whether the guidelines mark any change from existing policy, AP reported. Their purpose is to prevent any abuse in the future, he said.

Reaction to the journal article was swift.

“It’s great that somebody is talking about this,” said Jumana Musa, advocacy director for domestic and international justice at Amnesty International. “It’s been out there for a long time, but it gets lost in the mix because people don’t realize the grievous nature of it.”

Musa thinks that it’s unfair that prisoners are supposed to get medical care from doctors who can turn around and give the information to the military commission, where it can be used to convict them. “Effectively, that means there is no medical care available to them,” Musa said.

Having medical personnel in interrogations also raises questions, Musa added: “What’s being done in interrogations if you need to have medical people standing by? What does that mean, ethically, to the medical profession?”

There are questions raised by this that go beyond whether prisoners have access to medical care, Musa said. “The lack of confidentially may prevent someone from seeking medical care if they know it’s going to be used against them in interrogation,” she added. “Your job as a doctor is to treat and to heal, not to facilitate interrogations.”

More Information

The American Medical Association can tell you more about medical ethics at