Study Says Doctors at Guantánamo Neglected Or Concealed Evidence of Torture, Plus My Interview with Press TV

28.4.11

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.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

41 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Proprietor Naijamaican wrote:

    Keep on keepin on Andy

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Scott Fulmer wrote:

    Andy, have you commented on the timing of the Wikileaks release?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Maggie Hansen wrote:

    First do no harm?

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    Links: (1) Medical Investigations of Homicides of Prisoners of War in Iraq and Afghanistan
    Steven H. Miles, MD, Professor of Medicine and Bioethics http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1681676/
    (2 ) http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/OathBetrayed/index.html
    United States Military Medicine in War on Terror Prisons.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Ciudadano Kane Kane wrote:

    ‎!!!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, yes there was the physical care of the detainees, the psychological assessments of whether the detainee could stand further coercive interrogation, the designers of the torture programme and the doctors who administered the human experiment drugs. That is a lot of people. It must have been a bit like an episode of ‘House’ at times. All of these people in breach of their oaths and codes of conduct.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Ciudadano Kane Kane wrote:

    Thank you very much for the links!, Mui!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Maggie Hansen wrote:

    Yes Mui many thanks

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Harold Helm wrote:

    shared – thanks!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Karen Todd wrote:

    this crap has got to go! I can’t believe that it is still there- let alone that we engineered this monstrosity …. but like they say- it is criminal when others do it to us- but seems to be alright when we are the perpetrators

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, everyone, for caring, as Willy put it, about “All of these people in breach of their oaths and codes of conduct.” Conditions may indeed have improved at Guantanamo, but 171 men are still held, in unique, and uniquely depressing circumstances, and those who abused them — under Bush, and, in some circumstances, under Obama — have not been made answerable for their crimes.

    Scott, you asked about WikiLeaks. I’ve been working with them, helping to interpret the material for the eight official media partners, so I haven’t had the time — or the inclination, to be honest — to explain how the deadline was brought forwards because theNew York Times, the Guardian and NPR also got hold of the material and decided to rush it out early on Monday morning.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Anthony F. Angelic wrote:

    What the americans must experience…

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m sharing and digging this almost at once. I mentioned here a while ago that a now ex friend and APA member kept silent when he should have spoken up, during APA deliberations on their proper functions as (de facto) co-interrogators. He told me that he kept quiet because (nearly in his words) science must be objective. When I told him off he accused me of conduct unworthy of a person with a PhD.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Maggie Hansen wrote:

    Nothing objective about torture and abuse. His conduct was unworthy of a psychologist.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    Seems that “objective” is actually keeping silent and putting up a wall around the torture, and at other times it’s downright out and out criminal complicty, George. So your friend is not being objective in my view. I wish for a whistle blower, big time.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I agree Mui, except that this entity is no longer my friend, partly because of this excuse. Of course it’s complicity. And BTW, I didn’t believe for a moment that his words reflected his true intentions. I believe he was more interested in maintaining his professional standing. In other words, he’s a coward who misused his own scientific knowledge by not using it when he should have. In that sense, he was not at all objective.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    Sorry George. I wonder how many people have broken old friendships, no longer talk about certain issues with various family members or refuse to see certain movies and tv show. I blame the genesis for all the above on our “leadership” at the top.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Thanks Mui. I don’t live in the USA, but was born there. Still, when friends tell me about garbage like 24 I get angry. I simply do not understand it. I don’t know what the genesis is, but some Americans I knew (past tense) do not want to know about such things. They all have computers, the world of data is open to them, but they make no use of it. It goes further than losing old friends; I can no longer stand being in the company of any such person.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Scott Fulmer wrote:

    Thanks for your hard-nosed work, Andy.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    It makes me sad, George. I feel like the world is divided. I have arguments with my own family sometimes.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    I never saw 24 thank G*. That show began when I had really limited access to the TV.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger ‎wrote:

    Mui. I never *had* a TV.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    Well, George, you didn’t miss much. CNN for instance, lied about a prisoner massacre in Camp Bucca Iraq. I think it was Camp Bucca, or Camp Cropper.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger ‎wrote:

    Mui—I saw that online, but did not have time to read it. These days I go straight to the best online locations, my Guardian APP and some blogs. For entertainment I prefer music. I’ve had no need for TV at all, since 1962.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    George, my friend just did a piece for PressTV on the CNN deliberate lie about prisoner massacre. It’s rough to see, read in every way like the Kill team pictures, and Andy’s posts, but important: http://www.presstv.ir/usdetail/173285.html

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    Don’t mean to imply Andy’s posts are responsible for the horrific policy of the past 10 years. If anything they’re the antidote to all the lies.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Scott Fulmer wrote:

    Thanks for your hard-nosed work, Andy.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Chris Dorsey wrote:

    Sharing.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Winston Weeks wrote:

    Shades of Josef Mengele.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Scott Rickard wrote:

    Shared

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Gabriele Müller wrote:

    shared

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Nozomi Hayase wrote:

    Shared!

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Adnan Siddiqui wrote:

    please don’t forget that this problem is widespread and the Baha Moussa inquiry castigates British military doctors for the same thing.I am involved in a case from this tuesday which is sub judice but after the outcome I hope to highlight that these problems are also closer to home than we realise.

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote (following on from 25):

    Oh dear. Several weeks ago I started to watch the first Kill Team video, but got so upset that I turned the laptop off after several minutes. Perhaps I didn’t see the original, but the combination of music and the orchestrated presentation of the violence was unbearable for me. I have no idea who the intended average viewer is. In general, the increased willingness to watch such things is incomprehensible to me. Torture, war, domestic violence. I can’t watch any of that stuff. I drew the line at Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ i’m 68, younger friends have fewer problems with this no matter what their political views are, and I cannot understand the psychology that might be involved. The Helicopter video was pure news, and that was bad enough.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    George, I’m of the opinion that every American and European supporting the war, torture etc. should have these photos and videos shoved in their face, like German school children had Holocaust pictures shoved in theirs. I don’t know how else to get through to people. They don’t understand what’s happening.

    As for intended audience? *None of us reading this thread* are the intended audience of those videos. They’re *not* for entertainment. Did you suppose they were? They’re like Bradley Manning’s supposed leaks. They’re to stop the war, the murder the torture etc. They’re to confirm that the documents we’ve been analyzing are really happening. I don’t want to be in the hypocritical category saying, Oh gee I didn’t know. Neither should any body else. This is not movies, this is not Kubrick. This is war, George. My Lai. In order to stop, you have to know what and how bad it is.

    It’s bourgeois to say, Oh this is too much for me. Other people don’t have that luxury. I don’t anymore. Neither should you.

    What do you think Bradley Manning was looking at when he allegedly snapped like a twig and leaked to Wikileaks? It’s not sanitized Hollywood war movies. It’s war and torture causing untold suffering, killing millions (Iraq Body count) alone) torture and disappearance and maiming of who knows how many? I’m not going to give myself the luxury of saying “Oh this is too much for me.”

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger ‎wrote:

    A bit of visual horror is ok, but without reading text and *learning*, the ability to act rationally is often reduced. I prefer the written word to images.

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, everyone. And Mui, I understand your passion, but I really don’t think George is shirking any kind of responsibility! You’re right to want to find any kind of way to get the people who need to know to pay attention, but both of you are amongst the most dedicated people I know for expressing an interest in these topics — and I’m personally happy, as well, because you both appreciate the written word to such a great extent!

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    And Adnan, great to hear from you too — and looking forward to hearing more when you’re able to talk more about it.

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    George, videos lilke that are not entertainment. They are evidence of homicide for those of us who want justice for the victims. At least three prisoners were killed, two shot point blank in the head. The video is counter evidence of “accidental shooting (by professional snipers ) of prisoners during a riot.”

  40. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    Yeah sorry, Andy. I think there was a communication disconnect yesterday. I get kind of stressed when a family member is in the hospital on top of everything.

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    Sorry to hear about the illness of a family member, Mui. That’s always very stressful. As for comments here, I just don’t want my friends fighting! There are too few of us as it is …!

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