March 27

2013: Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror

Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terroris a report by The Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism, an independent panel of 20 high ranking professionals with expertise in medicine, ethics, psychiatry, public health, military medicine, and law charged that the military and the CIA,

“required physicians, psychologists, and other health professionals to act contrary to their professional obligations. These obligations include refraining from harming individuals with whom they interact in their professional capacities, maintaining confidences, being transparent about their professional roles, and exercising independent professional judgment.”
“directed doctors and psychologists working in U.S. military detention centers to violate standard ethical principles and medical standards requiring them to avoid infliction of harm – “do no harm.”

The report concluded that since 9/11, the DoD and CIA demanded that health professionals working for the U.S. military and intelligence agency collaborate in interrogation practices that inflicted severe harm on detainees in U.S. custody. These practices included:

“designing, participating in, and enabling torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees.… [that] the CIA’s Office of Medical Services played a critical role in reviewing and approving forms of torture, including waterboarding, as well as in advising the [DOJ] that forms of torture, were medically acceptable…Doctors and nurses at Gitmo are required to participate in the force-feeding of detainees, who are placed in extensive bodily restraints for up to two hours twice a day…”

The report further points out that in all known cases of health professionals charged with complicity in abuse of detainees at Guantánamo and in secret CIA detention centers, that were submitted to state licensing and disciplinary boards—in Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, Ohio and Texas—none have been brought before a formal hearing. Scott Horton, a lawyer known for work in human rights, and an expert on international law, helped prepare a report on renditions issued by N.Y.U. Law School and the New York City Bar Association. He explains why none have been held accountable:

“The report leaves little doubt that intelligence services and the Pentagon have offered doctors a sort of pact, amounting to: Leave your professional ethics behind when you come to work with us, and torture your patients if we ask you to. In exchange, we will keep quiet about what you’ve done, and will ensure that the ethics bodies responsible for policing the medical profession won’t get the evidence they need to act against you.” (Horton. The Torture Doctors, Harper’s, 2013)

Horton points out that “a doctor who is willing to torture his patients can hardly be counted upon to render the highest standards of professional care, even without the CIA standing over his or her shoulder.” Indeed, a doctor who engages in torture is a menace to society. Gerald Thomson, MD, one of the members of the Task Force stated:

“The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve. It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again.”

Bioethicist, Jonathan Moreno stated:

“Guantanamo is going to haunt us for a long time. The Hippocratic Oath is the oldest ethical code we have. We might abandon our morality about other professions. But the medical profession is sort of the last gasp. If we give that up, we’ve given up our core values.'” (Jayne Mayer. The Experiment, The New Yorker, 2005)

Indeed, it the horrors at Guantanamo have continued long after the graphic disclosure of horrific abuse in 2004.

In 2013, news reports of a hunger strike at Guantanamo: Prisoners are described by defense lawyers and military officials alike as in despair over whether they will ever leave the prison. As of Monday, a military spokesman said, 104 detainees were participating in the protest, of whom 44 were being forced to eat a liquid nutritional supplement administered through nasal tubes. There are 166 remaining inmates at Guantanamo according the Justice Department list released under a Freedom of Information request by the Miami Herald and The New York Times.

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