According to a report from the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres, in the years after 9/11, the Central Intelligence Agency instructed healthcare professionals to violate ethical and medical standards, imposing “severe harm on detainees in U.S. custody.
Over the course of two years, a 19-person panel of professors and medical experts reviewed publicly accessible documents that explained the Department of Defense’s and the CIA’s gross misuse of healthcare providers at Guantanamo Bay. These two government agencies militarized and implemented these doctors and nurses in ways that violated the Hippocratic Oath and other codes of ethics that are meant to hold medical professionals to the highest standard to provide care for the sick and ailing.
The taskforce, by support of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and Open Society, found that the Department of Defense and the CIA made doctors “design, participate in, and enable torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of post-9/11 detainees. In violation of the parameters set forth by the World Medical Association and the American Medical Association, medical professionals participated in force-feeding prisoners who were on hunger strike.
DoD medical professionals were also forced to breach confidentiality and share detainees’ medical information with interrogators and sometimes were, themselves, interrogators. In order to downplay their true role as healthcare providers, the DoD coined the term “safety officers.”
The taskforce many other ethics violations. These are but a few, but the DoD specifically:
• Required physicians and nurses to forgo their independent medical judgment and counseling roles
• Improperly designated licensed health professionals to use their professional skills to interrogate detainees as military combatants, a status incompatible with licensing; and
• Failed to uphold recommendations by the Army Surgeon General to adopt international standards for medical reporting of abuse against detainees.
The CIA Office of Medical Services hand a major hand in how medical professionals were involved in torture tactics. After the CIA convinced the Department of Justice that sleep deprivation and waterboarding were acceptable forms of torture, medical professionals were required to be present during torture as they advised how to administer the tortures.
“The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve,” said Task Force member Dr. Gerald Thomson, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Columbia University. “It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again.”