Medical Ethics in Crisis: ICRC Report Underscores Need for Investigation, Accountability

On the eve of World Health Day and just weeks from the fifth anniversary of the Abu Ghraib revelations, a newly-released International Committee of the Red Cross report provides additional evidence documenting violations of medical ethics in detainee abuse, emphasizing the need for a full investigation to restore the ethical foundations of the health professions. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has played a leading role condemning the gross violations of core principles of medical ethics by health professionals involved in the ill-treatment of detainees.

The high prestige enjoyed by health professionals is based largely on a perception that they adhere to the highest ethical standards. The actions of a few who have participated in ill-treatment threaten to erode that standing. Will leading health professional associations and the Administration heed the call to defend medical and psychological ethics and preserve the stature of health professionals?

President Obama has taken laudable steps to ensure that the United States upholds the obligations enshrined in domestic and international law prohibiting torture and cruel treatment. He reaffirmed that commitment at a town hall meeting in Strasbourg, France last week, stating the United States "will not torture." The rhetoric is comforting, but only a first step in restoring the rule of law, and international human rights norms and medical ethics.

PHR supports the creation of an independent, non-partisan commission to investigate all aspects of interrogation and detention policy. PHR has also called on the CIA and the Pentagon to undertake an internal investigation of the role of medical and psychological personnel in abuse of detainees. PHR has been privately and publicly involved in efforts to reform policies that continue to allow health professionals to play a role in exploiting detainees.

Until the abusive policies implemented by the Bush administration are fully investigated and overturned, including the role of health professionals in the design of abusive techniques and their role in interrogations, the legacy of torture will continue to cast a dark shadow. Health professional associations and the Administration must officially investigate both the active and passive involvement of medical and psychological personnel in detainee abuse.

Take Action

  • Establish a Commission to Investigate US Torture and Hold Health Professionals Accountable (this advocacy action no longer available)

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