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Report: CIA, DoD doctors ‘designed and participated’ in torture programs

A new report describes how the US 'war on terror' deployed CIA and Department of Defense doctors in the service of torture. The Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres found that the CIA even used testimony from doctors to convince the Justice Department that specific torture techniques were 'medically acceptable.' This 'medical' advice likely helped to shape the infamous torture memos, many of them written by Bush administration DOJ official John Yoo.

The Institute on Medicine as a Profession, which along with the Open Society Foundations provided some funding for the taskforce, says the report

details how DoD and CIA policies institutionalized a variety of interventions by military and intelligence agency doctors and psychologists that breach ethical standards to promote well-being and avoid harm. These interventions included: 
 
• Involvement in abusive interrogation; consulting on conditions of confinement to increase the disorientation and anxiety of detainees; 
• Using medical information for interrogation purposes; and 
• Force-feeding of hunger strikers. 
 
In addition, the group says that DoD policies and practices impeded the ability to provide detainees with appropriate medical care and to report abuses against detainees under recognized international standards. The report explains how agencies facilitated these practices by adopting rules for military health personnel that substantially deviate from ethical standards traditionally applied to civilian medical personnel. 
The Guardian reports that after 9/11,

Medical professionals were in effect told that their ethical mantra "first do no harm" did not apply, because they were not treating people who were ill.

The report lays blame primarily on the defence department (DoD) and the CIA, which required their healthcare staff to put aside any scruples in the interests of intelligence gathering and security practices that caused severe harm to detainees, from waterboarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding.
 
The two-year review by the 19-member taskforce, Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror…says that the DoD termed those involved in interrogation "safety officers" rather than doctors. Doctors and nurses were required to participate in the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, against the rules of the World Medical Association and the American Medical Association. Doctors and psychologists working for the DoD were required to breach patient confidentiality and share what they knew of the prisoner's physical and psychological condition with interrogators and were used as interrogators themselves. They also failed to comply with recommendations from the army surgeon general on reporting abuse of detainees.
 
The CIA's office of medical services played a critical role in advising the justice department that "enhanced interrogation" methods, such as extended sleep deprivation and waterboarding, which are recognised as forms of torture, were medically acceptable. CIA medical personnel were present when waterboarding was taking place, the taskforce says.
 
Although the DoD has taken steps to address concerns over practices at Guantánamo Bay in recent years, and the CIA has said it no longer has suspects in detention, the taskforce says that these "changed roles for health professionals and anaemic ethical standards" remain.
 
The American Medical Association's Code of Medical Ethics contains an official opinion about torture and doctors, which is posted on the organization's website. It reads in full:
Torture refers to the deliberate, systematic, or wanton administration of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatments or punishments during imprisonment or detainment.
 
Physicians must oppose and must not participate in torture for any reason. Participation in torture includes, but is not limited to, providing or withholding any services, substances, or knowledge to facilitate the practice of torture. Physicians must not be present when torture is used or threatened.
 
Physicians may treat prisoners or detainees if doing so is in their best interest, but physicians should not treat individuals to verify their health so that torture can begin or continue. Physicians who treat torture victims should not be persecuted. Physicians should help provide support for victims of torture and, whenever possible, strive to change situations in which torture is practiced or the potential for torture is great. 
Massachusetts state senator Jamie Eldridge introduced legislation in Massachusetts that would punish medical professionals who participate in torture. The bill is currently before the Joint Committee on Public Health. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.