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Writing in the medical journal, The Lancet, bioethicist Steven Miles calls for an investigation into the role doctors and nurses played in abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. He cites evidence that doctors or medics covered up the abuse by falsifying death certificates and even helped develop the military’s interrogation policy. “The medical system collaborated with designing and implementing psychologically and physically coercive interrogations,” he writes. “Army officials stated that a physician and a psychiatrist helped design, approve and monitor interrogations at Abu Ghraib.” (CBS News 8/20/2004)
Psychologists and medical ethicists react with horror to recent reports that a psychologist and various medical professionals took part in torturing prisoners—information that was revealed by recently released Justice Department memos (see April 16, 2009). A psychologist, whose name was redacted from the memos but is apparently James Mitchell (see January 2002 and After), provided, as the Washington Post reports, “ideas, practical advice, and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break [detainee] Abu Zubaida, physically and mentally. Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear—all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so.” The names of other psychologists and medical practicioners were also redacted from the memos. They monitored torture victims, helped keep them alive during sometimes-brutal interrogation sessions, and sometimes, the Post writes, “actively participated in designing the interrogation program and monitoring its implementation. Their presence also enabled the government to argue that the interrogations did not include torture.” The detainees were not the only ones being monitored. Psychologists were dispatched to each secret CIA prison, or “black site,” to make sure the medical professionals involved in the daily torture “could stand up, psychologically handle it,” says a former CIA official. Most of the psychologists were contract employees of the CIA.
Debate over Ethics of Participating in Torture - Frank Donaghue of the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights says: “The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology. All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again.” George Annas, a professor of health law and bioethics, says, “I don’t think we had any idea doctors were involved to this extent, and it will shock most physicians.” The use of doctors to monitor torture victims is “totally unethical.… In terms of ethics, it’s not even a close call.” The American Medical Association’s policy guidelines state that physicians “must not be present when torture is used or threatened,” and doctors can treat detainees only “if doing so is in their best interest” and not merely to monitor their health “so that torture can begin or continue.” Author and professor of medicine Steven Miles says the actions described in the memos are the “kind of stuff that doctors have been tried, convicted, and imprisoned for in other countries—and that’s what should happen here.” But Michael Gross, an Israeli author and professor, says if medical professionals believe particular interrogation tactics do not constitute torture, then there is no reason for them not to participate. “Physicians are faced with a hard dilemma,” he says. “They have professional obligations to do no harm, but they also have a duty as a citizen to provide expertise to their government when the national security is at stake. In a national security crisis, I believe our duties as citizens take precedence.” The American Psychological Association (APA) has condemned any participation by its members in interrogations involving torture, but critics of the organization have noted that the APA has failed to censure members involved in harsh interrogations. The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a 2006 report, “The interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics.”
Memos Say US Doctors' Participation Morally Distinct from Instances in Other Countries - The memos acknowledged that the participation of medical professionals in torturing prisoners posed an ethical dilemma, but contended that the CIA’s use of doctors in such interrogations is morally distinct from the practices of other countries that practice torture. One such distinction was that doctors observing interrogations could stop them “if in their professional judgment the detainee may suffer severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” In one instance, the CIA chose not to subject a detainee to waterboarding due to a “medical contraindication,” according to a May 10, 2005, memo. (Warrick and Finn 4/18/2009)
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