U.S. military doctors at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ignored signs of torture among prisoners and failed to investigate physical and psychological injuries they observed there, according to a study in the medical journal PLoS Medicine.
An examination of medical records of nine inmates at the U.S. military prison revealed clear signs of injuries consistent with torture as defined by a United Nations treaty and exceeding interrogation limits the U.S. considered legal, according to the report.
“Medical doctors and mental health personnel assigned to the U.S. Department of Defense neglected and/or concealed medical evidence of intentional harm,” wrote Dr. Vincent Iacopino, senior medical adviser for Physicians for Human Rights, and Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general. “These findings reveal new information about the potential extent of medical complicity in U.S. torture practices.”
Of the 779 suspected terrorists taken to the special prison at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay since it was opened in 2002, 600 have been transferred or released and 172 remain. Seven prisoners have died in custody. Conditions there have been condemned by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has reported allegations that detainees were kicked and beaten, denied medical care, confined in small boxes, and physically and psychologically abused.
Specific allegations of torture and ill treatment by the prisoners studied were “highly consistent” with the medical evaluations compiled by doctors at Guantanamo, the study said.
They noted that under internationally accepted guidelines for physicians, “the commission and/or concealment of acts of torture should never be justified by any health professionals” inside or outside the military.
“To our knowledge, this case review is the first study to provide evidence that Guantanamo medical providers aided in concealing evidence of torture and the complicity of health professionals in torture practices,” Iacopino said in an e-mail.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Tanya Bradsher, a Defense Department spokeswoman, responded to a request for comment by saying, “DoD personnel working in detention facilities operate under a high level of scrutiny and consistently provide the most humane and safe care and custody of individuals under their control.”
In an earlier e-mail, she said, “the Joint Medical Group is committed to providing unconditional appropriate comprehensive medical care to all detainees regardless of their disciplinary status, cooperation, or participation in a hunger strike. The health care provided to the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay rivals that provided in any community in the United States.”
Based on the medical records they studied, the authors wrote that U.S. policy makers didn’t act in good faith to ensure that their enhanced interrogation techniques were “safe, legal, ethical and effective.” Interrogations included unauthorized “acts of torture,” the study said.
Doctors and mental health personnel who treated detainees at Guantanamo failed to inquire or document causes of the physical injuries they observed, the report said. Instead, the health-care professionals attributed psychological symptoms to “personality disorders” and “routine stressors of confinement.”
“The abuses reported in this case series could not be practiced without the interrogators and medical monitors being aware of the severe and prolonged physical and mental pain that they caused,” the authors wrote.
“The full extent of medical complicity in U.S. torture practices will not be known until there is a thorough, impartial investigation including relevant classified information,” they concluded.