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New Report Outlines Violations of Medical Standards at Guantánamo

Document Highlights Need to End Force-Feeding and Provide Independent Medical Care at Detention Facility, PHR Says

For Immediate Release

An independent task force issued a report today highlighting the ongoing violations of medical ethics at Guantánamo and calling on the Department of Defense (DoD), the medical community, and others to conform to ethical principles in order to stop harming the detainees. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said the report, released by the Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers, reaffirms the unethical role medical staff have been forced to play and points to the need to end force-feeding and start providing independent medical care.

“While mass hunger strikes may have diminished, the legacy of torture and ill treatment at Guantánamo continues in the form of indefinite detention, force-feeding, and complete disregard for fundamental medical ethics,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s senior medical advisor and a member of the task force. “As a doctor who has been to Guantánamo and examined detainees, I am appalled that medical care there is controlled by command and security prerogatives. It is time for the administration to end the inhuman and degrading practice of force-feeding and restore the ability of medical staff to act independently and according to their clinical and ethical obligations.”

The 269-page report, “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the ‘War on Terror,’” is based on two years of review of public records by the task force, which is comprised of 19 medical, military, ethics, public health, and legal experts. In addition to Iacopino, Dr. Robert Lawrence, a PHR founding member and board chair emeritus, also served on the task force.

The report calls on the DoD and the CIA to follow medical standards that enable doctors to adhere to their ethical standards so they can heal – not harm – the detainees with whom they work. It also calls on medical associations and the American Psychological Association (APA) to strengthen ethical standards related to the interrogation and detention of detainees.

The document discusses how medical personnel were used to establish and participate in torture practices. It also outlines how the DoD committed a number of ethical breaches, including improperly using health professionals during interrogations; implementing rules that permitted medical and psychological information obtained by health professionals to be used during interrogations; requiring medical staff to forgo independent medical judgment and force-feed competent detainees in violation of medical standards; and failing to adopt international standards for medical reporting of abuse against detainees.

The report was supported by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations (OSF). The full report can be found here.

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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