November 30, 2022

US doctors cooperating in detainee interrogation, says NEJM

US Army doctors are lending unethical cooperation in the interrogation of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine has alleged. Dr M Gregg Bloche, of Georgetown University, and Jonathan Marks, a British barrister, say that there has been “wholesale rejection of clinical confidentiality” at the camp, contrary to practice in US military and civilian prisons. The assistant secretary of defense for health matters, Dr William Winkenwerder Jr, strongly denied the allegations and said that the article was “an outrageous distortion”.

According to the New York Times, some doctors have been participating in “behavioural science consultation teams”, or biscuit” teams, advising interrogators. A Pentagon spokesman suggested that these doctors were not required to observe ethical guidelines because they were not acting as doctors but as behavioural scientists. Some health care personnel are responsible for “humane treatment of detainees”, he said, but other had roles such as assessing the character of suspects.

A psychiatrist and former Army brigadier general, Dr Stephen Xenakis, told the Times that “this behaviour is not consistent with our medical responsibility or any of the codes that guide our conduct as doctors”. On the other hand, the Pentagon says that it has issued guidelines to ensure that doctors do not participate in unethical behaviour.