HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, June 24, 2005

Doctors Linked to Torture

In an article released early by the New England Journal of Medicine (will be available July 7th in hardcopy, now available on-line), Dr. Gregg Bloche, a physician and law professor at Georgetown University Law Center and Jonathan Mark, a London Barrister, who is currently a Greenwall fellow  in bioethics at Georgetown University Law Center and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, provide evidence that doctors and nurses are being required to provide health information to military and CIA interrogators.   Their article states,

Mounting evidence from many sources, including Pentagon dsocuments, idnciates that military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay have used aggressive counter-resistance measurs in systematic fashion to pressure detainees to cooperate.  These measures have reportedly inculded sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation, painful body posistion, feigned suffocation, and beatings.  . . .  The International Commitee of the Red Cross and others charge that such tacitics constitute cruel and inhuman treatment, even torture.

To what extent did interrogators draw on detainees' health information in designing and purusing such approaches?  The Pentagon has persistently denied this practice. . . .

But this claim, our inquiry has determined, is sharply at odds with orders given to military medical personnel - and with actual practice at Guantanamo.  Health information has been routinely available to behavioral science consultants and others who are responsible for crafting and carrying out interrogation strategies.  Through early 2003 (and possibly later), interrogators themselves had access to medical records.  And since later 2002, psychiatrists and psychologists have been part of a strategy that employs extreme stress, combined with behavior-shaping rewards, to extract actionable intelligence from resistant captives.

In response to the article, the Toronto Star provides commentators who question the use of medical records for such purposes.  The Star states,

Using medical records to devise interrogation protocols crosses an ethical line, said Peter Singer, director of the University of Toronto's Joint Centre for Bioethics."The goal for the physician is to care for the sick, not to aid an interrogation," he said. "Patients are patients and prisoners are prisoners and mixing those two things on the part of physicians who work in prisons is actually quite dangerous. Physicians are there for the benefit of patients and if they are seen to be there for some other purpose, it really blurs what they're doing."

An Amnesty International Canada spokesman said the report gives serious pause to anyone who is following what happens at Guantanamo. "This reinforces the necessity for a full, independent commission of inquiry into the detentions. What is going on and what rules are being violated," John Tackaberry said from Ottawa. "The American government needs to accept its responsibility to expose what is actually happening and show the world they are following standards that are acceptable in terms of international law," he said.

This article follows up on an excellent presentation that Gregg Bloche and Jonathan Marks made at the annual meeting of the American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics.  This article, and the others that follow it, should hopefully help generate some greater discussion about  how we are treating our prisoners abroad and bring about much needed change in policies.  [bm]

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