Guantanamo report raises questions on complicity of medical professionals

This June 20, 2013 photo shows a view inside of open air pen used to confine detainees at Camp X-Ray, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  

In March 2012, Samir Naji Al Hasan Moqbel (35), who had been held for more than 10 years in Guantanamo Bay, the U.S.’ prison for “War on Terror” inmates in Cuba, declined to eat the food he was given.

According to an editorial he wrote for The New York Times a year later, the prison’s Extreme Reaction Force then “burst in ... tied my hands and feet to the bed … forcibly inserted an IV” and then “the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily”.

Though the description raised troubling questions about the inmates’ rights, one fact that stood out was the involvement of medical professionals in practices that were said to be “cruel punishment”.

This involvement of doctors, nurses, psychologists and other medical professionals has come under scrutiny after an independent task force concluded in a report this week that since the U.S. embarked on the War on Terror after the 9/11 attacks, these “health professionals … became involved in the design and administration of that harsh treatment and torture — in clear conflict with established international and national professional principles and laws”.

The report on “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror”, which was co-authored by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the George Soros-founded Open Society Foundations, said doctors and other medical professionals had played a key role in abusive interrogation aimed at increasing the disorientation and anxiety of detainees, in the use of medical information for interrogation purposes and in the force-feeding of hunger strikers at Gitmo.


In some instances, the report argued, mental health professionals were extensively used to design interrogation techniques that would bring about “debility, dependency and dread” among detainees through “psychological dislocation”, maximising feelings of vulnerability and eliminating the will to resist.

In the more extreme cases, doctors were said to be directly involved in setting up guidelines for torture techniques such as waterboarding, including one that suggested that “an unresponsive subject must be righted immediately and a thrust just below the breastbone administered by the interrogator … If this fails to restore normal breathing, aggressive medical intervention [such as an emergency tracheotomy] is required.”

Speaking to The Hindu Gerald Thomson, report co-author and Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Columbia University, said the American public had a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations was firm regardless of where they served. He added that although health professionals were no longer being deployed in the conduct of torture by the U.S. their involvement continues with force feeding through the Gitmo hunger strikes.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 8:08:59 PM |

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