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New Report: Aiding Torture

by on August 31, 2009

A team of PHR doctors authored the new white paper, "Aiding Torture: Health Professionals' Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated in the May 2004 Inspector General's Report."[download id="17"]The report details how the CIA relied on medical expertise to rationalize and carry out abusive and unlawful interrogations. It also refers to aggregate collection of data on detainees' reaction to interrogation methods. PHR is concerned that this data collection and analysis may amount to human experimentation and calls for more investigation on this point. If confirmed, the development of a research protocol to assess and refine the use of the waterboard or other techniques would likely constitute a new, previously unknown category of ethical violations committed by CIA physicians and psychologists.In a statement today, Scott Allen, MD, PHR's Medical Advsisor and lead author of the report, said:
Medical doctors and psychologists colluded with the CIA to keep observational records about waterboarding, which approaches unethical and unlawful human experimentation. Interrogators would place a cloth over a detainee's face to block breathing and induce feelings of fear, helplessness, and a loss of control. A doctor would stand by to monitor and calibrate this physically and psychologically harmful act, which amounts to torture. It is profoundly unsettling to learn of the central role of health professionals in laying a foundation for US government lawyers to rationalize the CIA's illegal torture program.
Steven Reisner, PhD, PHR's Psychological Ethics Advisor and report co-author, said:
The required presence of health professionals did not make interrogation methods safer, but sanitized their use, escalated abuse, and placed doctors and psychologists in the untenable position of calibrating harm rather than serving as protectors and healers.?The fact that psychologists went beyond monitoring, and actually designed and implemented these abuses---while simultaneously serving as 'safety monitors'---reveals the ethical bankruptcy of the entire program.
The Inspector General's report documents some practices---previously unknown or unconfirmed---that were used to bring about excruciating pain, terror, humiliation, and shame for months on end. These practices included:
  • Mock executions;
  • Brandishing guns and power drills;
  • Threats to sexually assault family members and murder children;
  • "Walling"---repeatedly slamming an unresponsive detainee's head against a cell wall; and
  • Confinement in a box.
Co-author and PHR Senior Medical Advisor Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD, said:
These unlawful, unethical, and ineffective interrogation tactics cause significant bodily and mental harm. The CIA Inspector General's report confirms that torture escalates in severity and torturers frequently go beyond approved techniques.
Co-author Allen Keller, MD, Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, said:
That health professionals who swear to oaths of healing so abused the sacred trust society places in us by instigating, legitimizing and participating in torture, is an abomination. Health professionals who aided torture must be held accountable by professional associations, by state licensing boards, and by society.? Accountability is essential to maintain trust in our professions and to end torture, which scars bodies and minds, leaving survivors to endure debilitating injuries, humiliating memories and haunting nightmares.
PHR has called for full investigation and remedies, including accountability for war crimes, and reparation, such as compensation, medical care and psycho-social services. PHR also calls for health professionals who have violated ethical standards or the law to be held accountable through criminal prosecution, loss of license and loss of professional society membership where appropriate.

Places: United States

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