Skip to Main Content
Printer Friendly Home > Press > Press Releases

For Immediate Release

Medical Doctors and Mental Health Personnel at Guantanamo Neglected and/or Concealed Evidence of Torture and Ill Treatment

Cambridge, Mass - 04/26/2011

Cambridge, Mass. – April 26, 2011 – In an article published today 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 (pdf), 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. According to the PLoS Medicine 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, MD, MACP, 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. 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. “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, blue-ribbon commission designed to independently investigate the issues outlined in the PLoS Medicine article and to develop bipartisan proposals to close Guantánamo.  
  • The U.S. to allow a visit by the Special Rapporteur on Torture to Guantánamo.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

PHR News