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NY Times Story Reveals Mental Health Impacts of Torture

Psychiatrist and PHR board chair urges immediate end to indefinite detention and closure of Guantánamo Bay detention facility

For Immediate Release

In the latest story regarding the United States’ torture program, The New York Times today revealed new details about the inadequate mental health care provided to Guantánamo detainees tortured by the CIA and Defense Department. The following statement is attributable to psychiatrist Kerry J. Sulkowicz, MD, chair of PHR’s board of directors:

“Today’s latest revelations from The New York Times show the lasting, traumatic psychiatric effects the United States’ torture program inflicted on detainees in the post-9/11 era. The U. S. government enlisted health professionals to devise and carry out a brutal program of torture, and then withheld appropriate mental health care from Guantánamo detainees, concealing detainees’ torture histories, instructing medical staff to ignore the underlying cause of detainees’ psychiatric symptoms, and providing care far below military and civilian standards.

“The Times story shows that Guantánamo remains a fundamentally lawless place, where adequate mental health care is impossible because detainees’ own accounts of torture are classified, and those detainees do not trust military medical personnel. The only way forward is to immediately close Guantánamo. Any other tactic will prolong detainees’ suffering while depriving them of the care they need.

“Today’s reporting also shows that mental health care at Guantánamo has been grossly inadequate, in an apparent effort to cover up torture and its mental health consequences. Concealing this evidence, in medical records and in clinical encounters, took precedence over equipping military psychiatrists and psychologists to deliver appropriate care. The U. S. government’s attempts to shield itself from accountability have only exacerbated the suffering of detainees.

“The Times story profiles the contradiction of providing adequate care in an environment not only devoid of medical ethics, but structured to ensure medical complicity in torture and ill-treatment. Health professionals developed and carried out torture methods; routinely breached confidentiality by sharing medical information with interrogators; and forcibly medicated and force-fed detainees against their will. Such actions by medical professionals are unlawful, unethical, and violate medicine’s central ethical charge to do no harm.

“Guantánamo, as a place of indefinite detention and torture where medical professionals colluded with and at times became torturers themselves, is too tarnished to ever be a place where detainees can receive the treatment they require. President Obama must close Guantánamo immediately. And as the United States prepares for new presidential leadership, PHR will remain vigilant to ensure that the grotesque mechanisms of torture – including waterboarding – will never again be deployed by the U. S. government.”

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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