Inhumane Treatment and Violations of Medical Ethics Continue at Guantanamo

President Obama’s recent executive order mandating the closure of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay mandated a review of the conditions of confinement there. That review has concluded that treatment of detainees is humane and in keeping with the Geneva Conventions standard. Despite the findings by Navy Admiral Patrick M. Walsh (PDF), the Department of Defense (DoD) policies in force at Gitmo still violate medical ethics by allowing military psychologists and psychiatrists to participate in interrogations as Behavioral Science Consultants (BSCs).

The use of health professionals to advise on conditions of confinement designed to enhance the interrogation process is unethical. The report by Admiral Walsh highlights the fact that BSCs do not provide clinical health care. But this distinction is beside the point, since it is unethical for health professionals to have any direct participation in interrogation.

In addition, the DoD’s inhumane policy and practice of force-feeding detainees engaged in hunger strikes remain in place. This policy requires medical professionals to abandon the ethical guidelines promulgated by the World Medical Association and adopted by the American Medical Association, which prohibit force-feeding a competent and informed patient. This policy, which continues to harm the physical and mental health of detainees and compromise medical ethics, highlights the need for a comprehensive investigation into the role of medical professionals in detainee abuse and the DoD’s exploitation of medical professionals in such abuse. The report joins a series of DoD internal reviews that self-servingly justify existing policy and lack the independence and perspective necessary to restore the integrity of military medical ethics.

Physicians for Human Rights continues to support an independent, nonpartisan commission to undertake such an investigation and continues to encourage the DoD to bring its policies in line with established principles of medical ethics.

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