April 30, 2011
Just as WikiLeaks is revealing details of the regime of torture, coercion and bribery that was required to create what purported to be evidence at Guantánamo, the peer-reviewed journal journal PloS Medicine published a research article, “Neglect of Medical Evidence of Torture in Guantánamo Bay: A Case Series,” written by Vincent Iacopino, a senior medical advisor to Physicians for Human Rights, and Stephen Xenakis, a retired US Army Brigadier General, examining the cases of nine former prisoners, “all of whom,” as they say, “alleged torture and ill treatment during detention at the facility.” As an editorial explains, the authors “scrutinized medical records, client affidavits, attorney-client notes and summaries, and legal declarations of medical experts for evidence of torture and ill treatment,” and where such evidence existed, they “assessed whether medical personnel … had either documented or treated symptoms arising from torture.”
The research article, as the editors explain, “adds solid, specific evidence of both human rights abuses at Guantánamo Bay and the apparent complicity of medical personnel in the abuse,” documenting Ithe torture techniques, including “sleep deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes, serious threats, forced positions, beatings, and forced nudity,” that were prevalent during the worst period of abuse between 2002 and 2004. “In addition,” the editors add, “each of the nine detainees reported being subjected to severe beatings, sexual assault and/or the threat of rape, mock execution, mock disappearance, and being choked.”
Crucially, the researchers estabished that, “although some of the physical injuries sustained by detainees that were consistent with allegations of torture were documented by medical personnel in the camp, causes of injury were not investigated by those personnel. Furthermore, mental health practitioners in the camp recorded symptoms characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in seven of nine detainees, but failed to investigate the causes of the symptoms or to diagnose or treat the detainees’ PTSD.”
The authors’ conclusion is stark:
Medical doctors and mental health personnel assigned to the US Department of Defense neglected and/or concealed medical evidence of intentional harm. The full extent of medical complicity in US torture practices will not be known until there is a thorough, impartial investigation including relevant classified information. We believe that, until such time as such an investigation is undertaken, and those responsible for torture are held accountable, the ethical integrity of medical and other healing professions remains compromised.
In an AFP article that followed publication of the article, a shocking example of indifference was cited. A clinician with the Defense Department’s Behavorial Health Service, after noting a detainee’s suicidal thoughts, memory lapses and nightmares, prescribed him antidepressants, and stated, “[You] need to relax when the guards are being more aggressive.”
AFP also explained that, although “[r]eports of alleged complicity by CIA doctors and psychologists and DoD behavioral consultants, described by the US government as ‘non-clinical’ experts who were present during the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, have already come to light,” Vincent Iacopino pointed out that this new study “focuses on Defense Department medical personnel — doctors and psychologists — who directly cared for Guantánamo inmates and whose role has been largely obscured.”
Speaking to AFP, he said, “There has been no information to date on the role of those health professionals in turning a blind eye, as the paper has indicated, until this time.”
Yesterday evening, I spoke to Press TV about the new report. A recording of that interview is available here, and a transcript of the interview is below:
Press TV: Does this report come as a surprise to you at all?
Andy Worthington: Well, no it doesn’t. These kinds of stories have come out of Guantánamo for years. It’s something I’m glad to see is still being reported, because of course when it comes to medical personnel and psychologists and psychiatrists being involved in the kinds of procedures that took place in Guantánamo for many years, it’s absolutely disgusting that that’s happened.
These are people who really should have said no, and gone home and resigned from the military rather than taking any part in these things, and of course some of the people that were involved were outside contractors.
The whole process invoving playing on people’s phobias, and what were perceived as people’s weaknesses was designed by psychologists who had been working, actually, in US military schools teaching US personnel how to resist torture if they were captured abroad. It was reverse engineered and used at Guantánamo in real life on prisoners, which was a really shocking thing to do.
But these are the kinds of things that have happened, and over the years the prisoners at Guantánamo — released prisoners — have spoken about medical abuse under the Bush administration. So when people were ill they would not receive treatment unless they cooperated with interrogators.
One of the things that I hope people are noticing in these WikiLeaks disclosures of the Guantánamo documents is how many false statements are made by people, that getting people to cooperate with interrogators was not necessarily to tell the truth, it was getting them to make any kind of statement that could be used. As we’re seeing in these documents, there are a number of alarming informants in Guantánamo’s history who have repeatedly made statements from their fellow prisoners which have subsequently turned out to be untrue.
Press TV: Obviously, you mentioned you were glad that this sort of thing was being reported and coming out. But these sorts of things were being reported for quite a while now, especially since Obama promised to close Guantánamo. Do such reports make any difference or further the case of anyone being held responsible for torture in Guantánamo?
Andy Worthington: The primary aspect of the WikiLeaks documents is the military’s own assessment of how significant the prisoners are. So there is going to be very little in there about the torture of prisoners.
What I think it’s important is that what we’re seeing in some cases in these documents is the first confirmation on the part of the US military that certain prisoners were, for example, sent to other countries to be tortured before they were sent to Guantánamo. This is something that’s been very obvious from research over the years, but it’s not something that the Bush administration ever accepted had happened.
What I’ve seen already in a few of the files is mentions of prisoners being sent to Jordan where the Jordanians operated a secret torture prison on behalf of the CIA, and also to Egypt.
For those people who are concerned about holding senior Bush administration officials accountable for what they did in the war on terror, these provide other small pieces of evidence that will be useful for ongoing attempts to hold people accountable, but of course it’s very difficult because there’s no willingness within the United States to go ahead with anything. We seem to be relying on other countries trying to pursue cases against senior Bush administration officials or lawyers, and the problem is that the United States isn’t cooperating. There is a recent case that was brought in Spain where a Spanish judge actually dropped a case in the end when the US Justice Department refused to cooperate at all.
But, you know, I don’t think people should give up. The crimes that were committed by the Bush administration need to be addressed properly. This may be something that takes a very long time but if that’s the case it has to be done. I don’t think there’s really any other option.
I think President Obama, by allowing this to go unchallenged, has actually helped to create a climate in the United States where the supporters of torture feel kind of reinforced in their belief that it’s justified and acceptable; whereas, of course, it’s not. It’s not only counter-productive, but it’s illegal.
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