For Immediate Release
Four years after Guantánamo Bay opened on January 11, 2002 as a US detention facility, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) renews its call for access to the facility to conduct a public medical and human rights evaluation by independent health professionals and urges an independent commission to investigate interrogation techniques. PHR also calls for the restoration of the right of habeas corpus for detainees so that they can challenge their detentions in accordance with the rule of law.
"Holding detainees in violation of the Geneva Conventions has led to significant deterioration in their health, especially mental health, manifested by suicide attempts and self-abuse. Recent action by Congress to deny them access to the courts further exacerbates the health risks to detainees," said Leonard S. Rubenstein, PHR's executive director. PHR said that the Defense Department should allow an independent delegation of qualified physicians to assess the treatment of detainees and to review the conditions and circumstances of those detainees on hunger strike. The delegation would determine whether the care provided to these detainees and the choices they and their health providers make are consistent with World Medical Association standards and that no health personnel are compelled to engage in force feeding.
Despite the very serious indications of harm to detainees, the Defense Department's response has been continual stonewalling. In a December 12, 2005 letter, Dr. John Edmondson, director of health services at Guantánamo, claimed that hunger striking detainees were not being force fed, but that he was instead "providing nutritional supplementation on a voluntary basis to detainees who protest their confinement by not taking oral nourishment." Yet in the same letter, Dr. Edmondson justified force feeding by stating that detainees were in a coercive environment and denied the access to families needed to make an informed decision not to eat. The United States has denied access for family members.
Given this lack of transparency in the treatment of detainees, the refusal to follow accepted ethical standards, and the enormous extent of reported self-harm at Guantánamo, it is essential that such a review be conducted openly and disclosed publicly, PHR said.
Such an independent medical assessment team, which PHR has requested since 2003, is critical to protect the health and human rights of detainees and to assure that the facility operates in accordance with law. Such a report would review:
- The health and mental health status of detainees;
- Whether hunger strikers are receiving adequate care and they have access to individuals, including lawyers and family members, who can counsel them about their choices;
- Current conditions of confinement, including whether the Camp Five facility is being used to keep detainees in long-term isolation;
- Whether interrogation practices in use now do not constitute psychological torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment;
- Whether health professional continue to participate in interrogation through the use of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT), contrary to accepted international standards (PHR letter to DOD Health Affairs Secretary William Winkenwerder)
Such an assessment is all the more urgent in view of President Bush's signing statement to the Defense Authorization Bill regarding the McCain amendment claiming authority to engage in cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment notwithstanding Congress' prohibition. Additionally, the interpretation of psychological torture by the Justice Department, in effect, immunizes interrogators from use of techniques recognized as forms of psychological torture, such as exploitation of phobias, threats, inducement of fear, and others.
PHR also calls upon the Bush Administration to repudiate these legal positions, to end the use of health professionals in interrogations, and to repeal ethical guidance that permits health professionals to participate in interrogations.
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.