USA: Health professionals complicit in torture at Guantánamo Bay

May 16, 2011

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Medical doctors and mental health personnel at Guantánamo neglected and/or concealed evidence of torture and ill treatment, IFHHRO member Physicians for Human Rights claims.

In an article published by PLoS Medicine, PHR experts show that medical doctors and mental health personnel assigned to the Department of Defense (DoD) neglected or concealed medical evidence of intentional harm at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. According to the article, Guantánamo health providers should have been in a position to observe and document physical and psychological evidence of torture and ill treatment. However, PHR’s investigation found that, despite noticing the detainees’ physical injuries and psychological symptoms of intentional harm, medical personnel failed to question or document the causes. It is well established that Bush Administration policy makers revised the US definition of torture to include specific pain thresholds which required the medical monitoring of all ‘enhanced’ interrogation practices, but they failed to provide any duty or guidelines for medical personnel to document the possibility of torture.

Concealed evidence

According to the article, through their neglect of the evidence of intentional harm, DoD clinicians who were charged with the care of Guantánamo detainees, instead, concealed evidence of severe and prolonged physical and psychological pain. “The review of Guantánamo medical records makes it apparent that those who authorized torture did so in a way that ensured the cooperation of medical personnel, not only in designing and implementing torture but in turning a blind eye to the medical evidence of its effects,” said Frank Davidoff, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Physicians for Human Rights. “The fact that these medical professionals ignored the obvious signs of torture and ill treatment is troubling and requires immediate investigation.” PHR reviewed Guantánamo medical records and relevant case files of nine people. In each of the nine cases, the detainees alleged they had been subjected to abusive interrogation methods that are consistent with torture as defined by the UN Convention Against Torture.

Ignored symptoms

In the article, PHR’s experts state that the detainees’ allegations of torture, as well as the physical and psychological symptoms that were consistent with these allegations, were ignored. “When mental health professionals at Guantánamo noticed psychological symptoms in the detainees, they often attributed it to personality disorders and routine stressors of confinement, despite the detainee’s allegations of torture,” said Vincent Iacopino, Senior Medical Advisor at PHR and one of the authors. “These medical personnel were there to treat the detainees, but they failed to fulfil their ethical duty as physicians when they neglected to question or document the reason for the injuries and psychological symptoms they observed.”

PHR calls on President Obama to establish a bi-partisan commission designed to independently investigate the issues outlined in the PLoS Medicine article and to develop bipartisan proposals to close Guantánamo. The organisation also calls on the US to allow a visit by the Special Rapporteur on Torture to Guantánamo Bay.

Neglect of Medical Evidence of Torture in Guantanamo Bay: A Case Series, Vincent Iacopino & Stephen Xenakis. In: PLoS Medicine, 8(4): e1001027. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001027