Mark Danner, an attorney and journalist, revealed in yesterday's New York Review of Books never-before-seen sections of a confidential International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report detailing the treatment of detainees held at the CIA "black site" interrogation facilities. Among the many disturbing facts in Danner's article, the ICRC report contains critical new information about health professionals, described by the detainees interviewed for the report as "doctors," closely monitoring the torture of individuals in CIA custody.
Abu Zubaydah, allegedly the first detainee held at the black sites, states the following:
Cold water from a bottle that had been kept in a fridge was then poured onto the cloth by one of the guards so that I could not breathe…. The cloth was then removed and the bed was put into a vertical position. The whole process was then repeated during about one hour. Injuries to my ankles and wrists also occurred during the water-boarding as I struggled in the panic of not being able to breath. Female interrogators were also present…and a doctor was always present, standing out of sight behind the head of [the] bed, but I saw him when he came to fix a clip to my finger which was connected to a machine. I think it was to measure my pulse and oxygen content in my blood. So they could take me to [the] breaking point.
Health professional supervision of torture is one of the gravest affronts to medical ethics and is illegal under both domestic and international anti-torture law. Danner's disclosure of the ICRC report on detainee treatment in CIA custody is shocking but not suprising. For years evidence has been mounting through news articles, government investigations, and even the statements of Bush Administration officials that health professionals were centrally complicit in the breaking of bodies and minds at the black sites, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere.
Now, as pressure mounts on Capitol Hill for a commission of inquiry into detainee abuses, the work of PHR's Campaign Against Torture is more relevant and critical than ever. PHR is leading the charge to ensure that violations of medical ethics, such as those documented by Danner, are fully investigated and perpetrators are held to account.
Scott Allen, MD, is Medical Advisor for Physicians for Human Rights