Monday, February 16, 2009

On the recent revelations surrounding profound torture and mistreatment at Guantanamo and around the globe by American authorities


The recent release of documents authorizing torture at Guantanamo and in prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the globe by American operatives has proven that torture was authorized by the hierarchy of the former Bush II administration. It's now irrefutable and part of the historical record.

This week, we're getting some more corroboration in the form of an oral testimony that was posted by CSHRA (The Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas) on their website of Spc. (Specialist) Brandon Neely, a former U.S. Army MP who served at the detention facility in its first months. Neely's story account is a short one, but it indicates a compartmentalized bevy of horror that would shock and stagger the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe.

Neely's story corroborates previously released documents that state medical doctors, psychiatrists, and nurses were utilized in torture sessions on Guantanamo inmates on numerous occasions, and at various locations around the world. The use of physicians by the CIA for these purposes is not unknown, however, and is nothing new. But the solid proof of authorization by the executive branch is, and it's going to open a Pandora's Box that could hamper such methods. The Obama administration's recent comments on the issue aren't reassuring.

It should be a foregone conclusion in our culture that these methods are a direct threat to the liberties and human rights of almost everyone, especially our children. Children? Yes, children.

While it's doubtful that many of these physicians are working in the outlying society (we can presume that many are military physicians and medics), they are committing not only grievous actions that deprive these internees of their basic human rights, they are violating their oaths as practitioners. Where is the AMA and the rest of the medical and mental health profession over this? The suicides of three Guantanamo detainees in 2006 prompted action on their part.

On July 3rd, 2006, along with the American Psychiactric Association (APA), the AMA ruled that physicians couldn't participate in interrogations in any way of war on terror detainees.
The CEJA opinion also says physicians have a duty to disclose how much access interrogators have to prisoners' medical information and to report any coercive interrogations to authorities. If action isn't taken after they raise awareness, the opinion says, doctors are ethically obligated to report the offenses to independent authorities empowered to investigate.

David Fassler, MD, an American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry delegate who proposed a resolution on interrogation at the 2005 Interim Meeting, applauded the CEJA report. "Physicians should not design, participate in or monitor the interrogation of prisoners or detainees," he said. "Such activities are incompatible with our primary obligation to do no harm. ... I'm glad to see that organized medicine will now be able to speak with one voice on this issue." ("AMA adopts policy on interrogations," AMNews, 07.03.2006)

But the Pentagon's rules around that time allowed for psychiatrists to intervene in some cases "to monitor questioning," and presumably still do. What if laws are broken? Who reports them then? The key appears keeping certain personnel under military authority and control, ignoring civilian professional rulings when it comes to psychiatrists. While I don't entirely agree with journalist Larisa Alexandrovna's recent take (see link at the bottom) that these people could be treating some of our loved ones now (we don't really know, as she points-out, but we definitely should know, and soon), some of them will be.

The CEJA's recommendations were picked-up, and follow that physicians:

  • "Must neither conduct nor directly participate in an interrogation;"
  • "Must not monitor interrogations with the intention of intervening in the process, because this constitutes direct participation in an interrogation;"
  • And when physicians "have reason to believe that interrogations are coercive, they must report their observations to appropriate authorities. If authorities are aware of coercive interrogations but have not intervened, physicians are ethically obligated to report the offenses to independent authorities that have the power to investigate or adjudicate such allegations." ("AMA: Prisoner Interrogation Unethical for Physicians, Declares AMA Panel," Medpage Today, 06.12.2006)

I agree with Ms. Alexandrovna and others who contend that the physicians who violated their professional oaths should be stripped of their licensing--all of them, even military ones--for their participation in these activities that they agreed to engage in at Guantanamo and other locations. After that, they should be investigated for the commission of war crimes, human rights violations, and the violation of international and American law.

Spc. Neely's account offers some insights, and others who worked in these facilities are beginning to come forward. Additional details are emerging from documents that go as far as detainees being beaten to death, their genitals mutilated with a scalpel, and even the sexual abuse and the detention of the elderly and children, and there are more revelations to come. Authorizing torture techniques that result in death, even one, is a criminal act and a war crime.

No accountability means that these people--these psychopaths who broke their professional ethics and got involved in torturing human beings--are murders among us. Best to start prosecuting from the top, down. Ask yourself why the mainstream media isn't covering this. While you're at it, why not ask them directly some time? At the moment, the new administration isn't offering much change in this direction at all, but redress could be coming from certain quarters of Congress, two bills calling for looser state secrets rules have been proposed. The new president has a strange way of interpreting the constitution, being a scholar of it.

"AMA adopts policy on interrogations," AMNews, 07.03.2006: http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/AMA/3530

"AMA: Prisoner Interrogation Unethical for Physicians, Declares AMA Panel," Medpage Today, 06.12.2006: http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/AMA/3530

2002 Bush II administration memos authorizing torture (available since 2004): http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB127/

"Unspeakable Abuse at Gitmo--We Need the Names of These Medical Personnel," Huffington Post, 02.16.2009: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/larisa-alexandrovna/we-need-the-names-of-thes_b_167247.html

"Newly Unredacted Torture Documents Reveal Deaths, Abuse," Blog.ACLU, 02.11.2009: http://blog.aclu.org/2009/02/11/newly-unredacted-torture-documents-reveal-deaths-abuse/

The ACLU's Page on National Security and Torture (lots of links): http://www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/index.html

"Two Bills in One Day-State Secrets Fix on the Horizon," Blog.ACLU, 02.13.2009: http://blog.aclu.org/2009/02/13/two-bills-in-one-day-state-secrets-fix-on-the-horizon/