Brigadier General (ret) Stephen Xenakis, MD
After the June 2006 release of the Pentagon's guidelines affirming the involvement of psychologists in interrogations, Stephen Xenakis, a retired brigadier general with a 28-year Army career, travelled across the country speaking out against torture and abuse of detainees in US custody.
Dr. Xenakis denounced the Defense Department's protocol as violating the basic code of medical ethics to "first do no harm." And as a physician and retired high-ranking military officer, Dr. Xenakis provided a credible and valuable insider's voice on this issue.
When the American Medical Association publiclycame out against the Pentagon guidelines by prohibiting its members from being involved in interrogations, Dr. Xenakis began working with PHR to lobby the American Psychological Association to also issue a formal opposition to the guidelines.
When the APA fell short of explicitly prohibiting its members from designing, implementing, or assisting in interrogations, Dr. Xenakis spoke out on behalf of military and civilian personnel caught in command structures and operational settings that demand their participation in abusive interrogation techniques. "Standards without rules do nothing to stop abusive and illegal tactics ongoing as part of US counterterrorism operations," said Dr. Xenakis.
Dr. Xenakis also worked with PHR to pressure Congress to enforce the McCain Amendment of the Detainee Treatment Act, prohibiting the cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners. This effort affirms the Supreme Court ruling protecting the rights of detainees and concessions by the White House and Defense Department that terror suspects in military custody have legal rights under the Geneva Conventions.
The Defense Department later released a revised army field manual that is strongly grounded in the Geneva conventions and the McCain amendment.
"Medical personnel have a duty to serve as a check to the line command and investigators, and as a constant reminder that all soldiers—even the enemy captured in combat—should be treated with dignity and humanely," says Dr. Xenakis, who currently serves as director of child adolescent psychiatry at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington.
He has spoken out repeatedly about the extensive evidence that tracks how psychological torture by US personnel—including sensory deprivation, sexual humiliation, and forced nudity—were not isolated to Abu Ghraib but also systematic and central to the interrogation process of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
Dr. Xenakis says his human rights work is guided by a simple principle: "Do what's good and do what's right. Be honorable."
"In an organization like the military, it always works better when there is, at all levels, the same kind of principled thinking and clear understanding of guidelines and ethics. It's the same in medicine as it is in the military. Both are professions that are out there to serve and do right by people."
"The most gratifying aspect of working with PHR has been the opportunity to get to know a group of professionals who show uncommon human decency in their daily work and live by the high principles they advocate," says Xenakis.