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

For Immediate Release

Cambridge, Mass. – April 26, 2011 – Inan article published today by PLoS Medicine, PHR experts show that medicaldoctors 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 healthproviders should have been in a position to observe and document physical andpsychological evidence of torture and ill treatment. However, PHR’sinvestigation found that, despite noticing the detainees’ physical injuries andpsychological symptoms of intentional harm, medical personnel failed to questionor document the causes.

It is well established that Bush Administrationpolicy makers revised the US definition of torture to include specific painthresholds which required the medical monitoring of all “enhanced”interrogation practices, but they failed to provide any duty or guidelines formedical personnel to document the possibility of torture. According to the PLoS Medicine article, through theirneglect of the evidence of intentional harm, DoD clinicians who were chargedwith the care of Guantánamo detainees, instead, concealed evidence of severe andprolonged physical and psychological pain.

“The review of Guantánamo medical records makesit apparent that those who authorized torture did so in a way that ensured thecooperation of medical personnel, not only in designing and implementing torturebut in turning a blind eye to the medical evidence of its effects,” said FrankDavidoff, MD, MACP, InterimChief Executive Officer of Physicians for Human Rights. “The fact that these medical professionalsignored the obvious signs of torture and ill treatment is troubling andrequires immediate investigation.”

PHR reviewed Guantánamo medical records andrelevant case files of nine people. In each of the nine cases, the detaineesalleged they had been subjected to abusive interrogation methods that are consistentwith 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 thephysical and psychological symptoms that were consistent with these allegations,were ignored.

“When mental health professionals at Guantánamo noticedpsychological symptoms in the detainees, they often attributed it to personalitydisorders and routine stressors of confinement, despite the detainee’sallegations of torture,” said Vincent Iacopino, Senior Medical Advisor at PHR. “These medical personnel were there to treat thedetainees, but they failed to fulfil their ethical duty as physicians when theyneglected to question or document the reason for the injuries and psychologicalsymptoms 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 SpecialRapporteur on Torture to Guantánamo.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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