WASHINGTON: US Department of Defence doctors and psychologists whose duty was to care for inmates at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, concealed evidence of intentional harm and torture, said a study on Tuesday.
The findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal PloS Medicine, come in the wake of a host of secret US documents released by WikiLeaks, shedding light on conditions in the US military prison in Cuba.
Co-authored by a retired army brigadier general and an expert with Physicians for Human Rights, the study is based on a review of the medical records and legal files of nine inmates at the US “war on terror” facility.
The authors call into question whether military doctors, who like their civilian colleagues generally adhere to the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, should have done more when confronted with potential signs of abuse or torture.
Military doctors noted the sudden onset of post-traumatic stress symptoms in some inmates who had no history of mental problems, heard stories of rape and documented bone fractures, contusions and lacerations, but they did not question the cause, the study said.
“The medical doctors and mental health personnel who treated the detainees...failed to inquire and/or document causes of the physical injuries and psychological symptoms they observed,” it said.
“Nearly all” of the doctor visits “were initiated after suicide attempts and/or detainee hunger strikes,” and notes taken by military doctors “indicate that their visits were unwelcome and the detainees often refused to cooperate.”
In one case, a clinician with the Defence Department's Behavioural Health Service noted a detainee's suicidal thoughts, memory lapses and nightmares, and prescribed antidepressants.
“(You)...need to relax when the guards are being more aggressive,” the inmate was told, according to medical records cited by the study.
Reports have already come to light of alleged complicity by CIA doctors and psychologists and DoD behavioural consultants, described by the US government as “non-clinical” experts who were present during the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques such as water-boarding.
But according to lead author Vincent Iacopino, this study focuses on Defence Department medical personnel — doctors and psychologists — who directly cared for Guantanamo inmates and whose role has been largely obscured.
“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,” Iacopino told AFP.
The study does not name the clinicians involved. Iacopino said the doctors' names had been redacted from the documents they consulted.
In addition to reports by the detainees of facing enhanced interrogation techniques which were authorised by the George W. Bush administration, all nine reported facing “unauthorised” acts.
Those included “severe beatings, often associated with loss of consciousness and/or bone fractures, sexual assault and/or the threat of rape, mock execution, mock disappearance, and near asphyxiation from water (i.e., hose forced into the detainee's mouth) or being choked,” the study said.
“Other allegations included forcing the detainee's head into the toilet, being used as a human sponge to wipe the floor, and desecration of the Quran.”
In response to an AFP request for comment, the Department of Defence issued a statement that did not refer directly to the study allegations.
“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,” it said.
“The Joint Medical Group is committed to providing unconditional appropriate comprehensive medical care to all detainees,” it added.
“The healthcare provided to the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay rivals that provided in any community in the United States.”
Some medical records were heavily edited by military censors, and since the study is limited to nine cases, the authors noted they could not say for sure if similar treatment happened to other detainees.
“Nevertheless, these findings reveal new information about the potential extent of medical complicity in US torture practices, and they highlight the need for a thorough and impartial investigation of all the available information, including relevant classified information,” the study said.
“The commission and/or concealment of acts of torture should never be justified by any health professionals — clinical, non-clinical, military, or non-military.”