Group says government told medical workers to ignore their professional behavioral codes, citing force-feeding, torture.
A group of experts in medicine, law and ethics has issued a blistering report that accuses the U.S. 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, Guantanamo and Iraq.
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 group founded by billionaire George Soros.
The authors served on a 19-member task force that based its findings on a two-year review of public information. The sources included government documents, news reports, and books and articles from professional journals.
Among the abuses cited in the report are the force-feeding of hunger strikers by the use of feeding tubes. The task force also suggests that medical personnel ignored their duty to report evidence of beatings or torture, 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 described as violations of medical ethics at detention sites. Other groups have also described abuses, including Physicians for Human Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Spokesmen for the CIA and the Defense Department dismissed the new report as unsubstantiated and incorrect. Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said in an e-mail, “Task Force Guantanamo routinely provides comprehensive and humane medical care to the detainees held at Guantanamo. They are consummate professionals working under incredibly stressful conditions.”
He also defended the force-feeding of hunger strikers via nasal tubes as legal and necessary to prevent them from committing suicide by starvation. He referred to the procedure as “enteral feeding.”
“While detainees may be on the enteral feed list they do not always require the tube feeding — frequently they will drink the supplement or eat a meal out of sight of their peer,” Breasseale said.
According to the report, the CIA’s Office of Medical Services drew up guidelines that called for having medical personnel present during interrogations to ensure “serious or permanent harm” would not result. For instance, exposure to cold was to be stopped just before hypothermia was likely to set in, and loud noise would be halted just before permanent hearing damage would occur.
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” to assist in interrogations. Little is known about these teams, except that they do study detainees, suggest lines of questioning, and help decide when tactics are too harsh and when it is time to push harder.