Doctors Working for U.S. Military Took Part in Detainee Torture, and Army Field Manual Still Allows It

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Military physicians participated in the torture of detainees captured after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a new report (pdf) that also found the U.S. Army still instructs soldiers to use abusive techniques when dealing with prisoners.


A task force consisting of medical professionals, ethicists and legal experts reviewed government records for three years and found the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with the “connivance” of the Department of Justice, altered existing rules and procedures to justify using military doctors during interrogations of terrorism suspects.


Doctors and psychologists helped design and participated in secret programs that sought to extract information from detainees using harsh interrogation techniques, according to the report.


The health care professionals even caused harm to detainees instead of caring for them as required by the Hippocratic Oath, the task force discovered.


“It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again,” Dr. Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University and a task force member, said in a press release.


The Pentagon justified using doctors in this manner by claiming they functioned as “safety officers” during the interrogations.


“Putting on a uniform does not and should not abrogate the fundamental principles of medical professionalism,” David Rothman, president of Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP), who was behind the task force, said in the report. “‘Do no harm’ and ‘put patient interest first’ must apply to all physicians regardless of where they practice.”


The report called on President Barack Obama to order the Army to revise its field manual and remove all sections pertaining to the use of torture. It also recommends that Obama “order a comprehensive investigation of U.S. practices in connection with the detention of suspected terrorists following 9/11 and report the results to Congress and the American people.”


That investigation, advised the report, “should include inquiry into the circumstances, roles, and conduct of health professionals in designing, participating in, and enabling torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees in interrogation and confinement settings and why there were few if any known reports by health professionals.”


Obama terminated the controversial Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program— which had been used extensively by the George W. Bush administration in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks—by executive order in 2009.


“The president has issued an executive order prohibiting the use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and has repudiated Justice Department legal memoranda authorizing its use,” the report states. “However, the Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations, which binds both military and CIA interrogators, permits methods of interrogation that are recognized under international law as forms of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Such methods include sleep deprivation, isolation, and exploitation of fear.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Blue Ribbon Task Force Says Army Field Manual On Interrogation Allows Torture, Abuse (by Jeffrey Kaye, Public Record)

Report: US Military Doctors Complicit in Torture (by Jacob Chamberlain, Common Dreams)

Panel: U.S. Doctors Violated Medical, Ethical Standards in Detention Facilities (by Clara Ritger, National Journal)

Medical, Military, and Ethics Experts Say Health Professionals Designed and Participated in Cruel, Inhumane, and Degrading Treatment and Torture of Detainees; Seek Policies To Assure Conformance With Ethical Principles (Institute on Medicine as a Profession)

Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the “War on Terror” (Institute on Medicine as a Profession) (pdf)

Why is Obama Hiding 6,000-Page Report on Bush-Era Torture and Why is Torture Still Allowed? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Obama: Torture Okay if Just Following Orders (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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