By Amy Woods

04 November 2013


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A national task force's review of post-9/11 actions by medical professionals working with U.S. military and intelligence agencies concluded doctors violated their code of ethics by torturing detainees suspected of terrorism.

The 19-member Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers found medical doctors and psychologists, heeding instruction from the Department of Defense and the CIA, waterboarded and force-fed suspects, as well as deprived them of sleep, The Guardian reports.

"The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional, ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve," said Dr. Gerald Thomson, a member of the task force and a professor emeritus at Columbia University in New York City.

The report, "Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror," said government-hired healthcare workers "designed and participated in cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment and torture of detainees" after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. The report further states military and intelligence officials told the workers the "first do no harm" clause in the Hippocratic Oath was to be disregarded because the subjects were not patients.

"It's clear that in the name of national security, the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice," Thomson said. "We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again."

The Guardian reported the Defense Department referred to the doctors and psychologists involved in the interrogation program as "safety officers" who specifically were told to force-feed detainees participating in hunger strikes, which smacks at the cornerstone of the American and World medical associations' core principles.

The "enhanced interrogation" was purported to be acceptable by the CIA's office of medical services, and personnel from the agency were in the room during torture sessions, the task force report said. Further, the Defense Department "continues to follow policies that undermine standards of professional conduct" and "changed roles for health professionals and anemic ethical standards" remain.

"Putting on a uniform does not and should not abrogate the fundamental principles of medical professionalism," said David Rothman, president of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession. "'Do no harm' and 'put patient interest first' must apply to all physicians regardless of where they practice."

But the report, which took two years to publish, "contains serious inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions," CIA spokesman Dean Boyd told The Associated Press, adding that "enhanced interrogation" was ended in 2009 by President Barack Obama.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said the task force's findings never have been substantiated and described as "medically sound" the practice of force-feeding detainees.