New Report Condemns Role of Doctors, Psychologists and Psychiatrists as Torturers in Bush’s “War on Terror”


Unusually, there has been so much Guantánamo-related news lately that I haven’t had time to write about it all. A case in point is “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror” (also available here on Scribd), a 156-page report by the Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers, an independent panel of 19 military, ethics, medical, public health, and legal experts, who spent two years working on their report, with the support of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations.

The report was published on November 5, and, as a press release explained, the task force of experts “charged that US military and intelligence agencies directed doctors and psychologists working in US military detention centers to violate standard ethical principles and medical standards to avoid infliction of harm.”

The task force also concluded that, “since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD) and CIA improperly demanded that US military and intelligence agency health professionals collaborate in intelligence gathering and security practices in a way that inflicted severe harm on detainees in US custody,” which included “designing, participating in, and enabling torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of prisoners seized in the “war on terror.”

Particular criticism was directed at the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, who, as the task force explained, “played a critical role in reviewing and approving forms of torture, including waterboarding, as well as in advising the Department of Justice that ‘enhanced interrogation’ methods, such as extended sleep deprivation and waterboarding that are recognized as forms of torture, were medically acceptable.” The task force added, importantly, that CIA medical personnel “were present during [the] administration of waterboarding,” which is true, but the even more alarming fact is that all the torture and abuse that was so widespread in the “war on terror” needed medical personnel to be present to make sure — or to try and make sure — that no one died.

Dr. Gerald Thomson, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Columbia University, and a member of the task force, stated, “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. 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. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again.”

The task force called on the DoD and CIA “to follow medical professional standards of conduct to enable doctors and psychologists to adhere to their ethical principles so that in the future they be used to heal, not injure, detainees they encounter,” and urged professional medical associations and the American Psychological Association “to strengthen ethical standards related to interrogation and detention of detainees.” The task force noted that, although the DoD had “taken steps to address some of these practices in recent years, including instituting a committee to review medical ethics concerns at Guantanamo,” the changes to the role of health professionals since 9/11, and what were described as “anaemic ethical standards adopted within the military” are still in place.

The report also listed the policies put in place in the “war on terror” that breached the required ethical standards “to promote well-being and avoid harm,” and listed them as:

  • Involvement in abusive interrogation; consulting on conditions of confinement to increase the disorientation and anxiety of detainees;
  • Using medical information for interrogation purposes; and
  • Force-feeding of hunger strikers.

That last point is one that has been of particular relevance this year, with the well-publicized hunger strike, which, for seven months, involved the majority of the prisoners. Despite court submissions by lawyers on behalf of the prisoners, in which they urged judges to order the government to stop the force-feeding, the judges were obliged to rule that they didn’t have jurisdiction because of previous rulings involving Guantánamo and hunger strikes. Specifically, when Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, the legislation prevented prisoners from suing over their living conditions.

An appeal was submitted last month, which I wrote about here, in which two of the three judges in the Washington D.C. appeals court, Judge David Tatel and Judge Thomas Griffith, “asked sceptical questions.” Reuters reported that, while they “stopped short of agreeing that forced feeding is inhumane, they suggested that Guantánamo detainees might be able to get around” the conditions in the DTA, which “bars them from suing over living conditions in extreme cases that might include forced feeding.”

The publication of the report also coincided with a screening, in London, of “Doctors of the Dark Side,” a documentary film, directed by Martha Davis, a clinical psychologist, who visited London for the screening at UCL, where I had the pleasure of meeting her. As described on the film’s website, “Doctors of the Dark Side” tells the stories of four prisoners and the doctors involved in their abuse, and exposes “how psychologists and physicians implemented and covered up the torture of detainees in US controlled military prisons.”

The website also features a powerful comment by Nathaniel Raymond, formerly the director of Physicians for Human Rights‘ anti-torture campaign, who called the participation of doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists in the Bush administration’s post-9/11 program of torture, rendition and indefinite detention “the single greatest scandal in the history of American medical ethics.”

One thing that struck me most powerfully while I was watching “Doctors of the Dark Side,” and that also emerged in discussions afterwards was, as I mention above in relation to waterboarding, that it is no exaggeration to say that, without doctors to oversee and check on the victims of torture, the entire program would have been inconceivable, laying the responsibility for the widespread torture and abuse on doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists as much as on the senior officials in the Bush administration and their lawyers, who conceived and authorized the programs of torture and abuse, and the senior military figures, and those in the CIA, who implemented them.

I hope that the publication of “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror” leads to further action, to try and ensure that the kind of abuse that is still ongoing at Guantánamo, with relation to the 11 prisoners still being force-fed, is brought to an end, and steps taken to make sure that it cannot happen again.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

32 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington : New Report Condemns Role of Doctors, Psychologists and Psychiatrists as Torturers in Bush’s “War on Terror” | theonlynewsman says...

    […] Andy Worthington : New Report Condemns Role of Doctors, Psychologists and Psychiatrists as Torturers… […]

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. In the article I mention the documentary, “Doctors of the Dark Side,” which I saw recently in London, and also had the pleasure of meeting the director, Martha Davis. Please visit the website, and, if you can arrange a screening, there is information available:

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Vikki G. Hufnagel wrote:

    And much more bad stuff
    you have no idea the crimes in medicine ….regular medicine

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    I know about some problems, Vikki. I know about the crippling costs of healthcare for far too many people in the US, compared to the wonderful benefits of the NHS here in the UK. I also know, generally, how Big Pharma likes to make profits pushing its drugs. Did you have any specific issues in mind?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Fiona Branson wrote:

    in 1995, uk tv broadcasters were given access to the ‘white space’ on the radio spectrum to develop ‘digital products and services’. no data protection standards or process of complaint was offered to any/all medical device users (implanted medical devices operating on industrial scientific and medical bandwidth,have been in use from the late 1950’s with an initial military/scientific initial usage see – medical devices – Wikipedia). Worse still, though the BMJ have confirmed in an editorial that non-consensually applied medical devices have been employed in the UK, no-one has any process of complaint of ‘harmful interference’ or other abuses. I find it telling that whilst we may discuss medico/military torture and abuse at Guantanamo – no one seems able to discuss – or indeed care – for the silenced victims of medico/military/pharma research here in the UK.
    …whilst we see ‘consensual’ cosmetic breast implantees receiving fair compensation…

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Vikki G. Hufnagel wrote:

    I will give you one item at a time that can be verfied and that I have proven already and spent years on and can not get anywhere tactics are changing . The doc film . and plays are needed for social change. Talking and writing is ok but on issues of the mind that consciousness has not come to nothing changes. Tubal Ligation is common. PTLS Post Tubal Ligation Syndrome is common . Women and the medical community are TOTALLY IGNORANT about this . MDs set up reversal clinics that are fraudulent and make millions on these victims telling them reversal will cure them. I have given up on normal communication…I am trying to support arts to tell the story and myself work on enforcement ….the public is totally uneducated on enforcement ..

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Vikki G. Hufnagel wrote:

    Andy thanks I am going to start to do a blog on the evils I have uncovered you have given me inspiration and courage by your example

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Fiona, and thanks again, Vikki. I am extremely pleased to hear that my example has inspired you to set up a blog.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Sharing this, Andy. Let me add this bit of history. It is still relevant, because Professor Martin Seligman has reinvented himself as “professor happiness” of positive psychology: gung-ho optimism designed to induce docile conformity, but disguised as science. Here are two references. First an historically important report:
    now some insight into what this torture-enabler is into now, with tentacles throughout the EU:

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    More background here:
    “The U.S. Has a History of Using Torture” by Alfred McCoy

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    George, thanks for the updates on Martin Seligman, who played a major role in the development of the Bush administration’s torture program, and for the links. His “Authentic Happiness” program sounds deeply troubling, as your description makes clear: “gung-ho optimism designed to induce docile conformity, but disguised as science.” A Salon article from 2010 explains the horrible way in which Seligman developed “learned helplessness” and how it was used up after 9/11:

    Seligman is most famous for his work in the 1960s in which he was able to psychologically destroy caged dogs by subjecting them to repeated electric shocks with no hope of escape. The dogs broke down completely and ultimately would not attempt to escape through an open cage door when given the opportunity to avoid more pain. Seligman called the phenomenon “learned helplessness.”

    Government documents say that the goal of Bush-era torture was to drive prisoners into the same psychologically devastated state through abuse. “The express goal of the CIA interrogation program was to induce a state of ‘learned helplessness,’” according to a July 2009 report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility.


  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks also, George, for the link to the detailed work of Professor Alfred McCoy. I also recommend my friend Jeff Kaye’s investigations into human experimentation in the “war on terror,” at Guantanamo and elsewhere:

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Thanks for the link, Andy. I must have read about some of this in McCoy’s book, but forgot about it. I did know about the APA’s troubles. I connected some dots when I read the blog post of Steve Walker that preceded this one. Steve wrote it quickly, after I sent him the first link above:
    “DWP psych ‘test’ devised by US ‘torture guru'”

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the reminder of that article by Steve Walker, George. I think I read it when it came out, probably because you had mentioned it, but I never followed up on it. It’s important for everyone persecuted by false or damaged “experts” in the fields of medicine and psychology to see what connections can be made in different fields and across national boundaries. These are dangerous people, and they can cause enormous damage.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Barry Brenesal wrote:

    I’m not even going to recount some of the findings that have been published, and that I’ve linked to, in the past couple of weeks. Frankly, they make me sick. They remind me of the Hitler and Stalin regimes, and what people would say and do to distance themselves while committing the most heinous acts.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your outrage, Barry. If only many, many more people felt like that the world would be a better place.

  17. Jeff Kaye says...

    Thanks, Andy, for the excellent review of the IMAP/OSF report. Also for the shout-out to my work.

    Let me take this opportunity to piggy-back on your work to mention 2 articles I wrote, picking out special aspects of this new report that are flying under the radar. One has to do with the fact the report Task Force singled out the Army Field Manual for allowing forms of torture, and asked for a new executive order outlawing its abusive tactics, and for the manual to be rewritten. This is vitally important because the long-used US program of “debility-dread-dependency” torture has been incapsulated in the current Bush-era revise of the manual (upheld by Obama). The link here:

    Secondly, the report became the first mainstream “Establishment” call for an investigation into the use of meflouqine on all the arriving detainees at Guananamo. It seems very likely that this was part of the campaign of using drugs to further disorient or experiment upon the Guantanamo prisoners. It is a big step forward to have the medical and legal-ethics establishment call for a formal investigation. See my story on that here:

    Each day I am so happy that you are still in there, Andy, fighting the good fight against torture and injustice. — Cheers, Jeff

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Jeff, thank you so much for your important contributions, and for providing the links so that people can find out more. I’m also posting them on Facebook, where I think more people will see them.
    Your work on pursuing this is very important, and I’m happy if I’ve managed to get a few more people interested. I’d like to have spent more time on it, but my article was nothing more than a brief introduction, which also allowed me to mention Martha Davis’s work on “Doctors of the Dark Side,” as well as a reminder that the latest abuse is still ongoing, in the force-feeding of hunger strikers.
    Thanks also for your kind words, Jeff. I feel the same about your tenacious presence too, and I very much hope to see you – and do an event with you – in January. I’m working on an itinerary, but I’ll definitely be out on the West Coast!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Julien Arbor wrote:

    Thanks to all of you for all your hard work. Another aspect of this that was mentioned in the PENS Task Force listserv & which Jeff has written on is MKULTRA. It is still going on, I’ve been a target of it, used for human experimentation, unable to get needed assistance by law enforcement, fabricated psychiatric diagnoses, spent 2 weeks in jail following a false arrest & deprived of all my MS & seizure medication while kept in solitary confinement with bright lights on me 24/7, no soap, shower or clean linens or clothes, taken out of the cell in GITMO-style extraction & even had a nurse say, “I hear you are from Afghanistan!”. The story continues even today as I write this from the Evanston Nursing & Rehab in horrific shape from yet more abuse & lies from the staff here, which is heavily influenced by CBT & Seligman’s model, still isolated from my family whom I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to reach since ’08 (yep, all the NSA stuff & witnessed). I also attended a viewing of Doctors of the Darkside shortly before being a victim of domestic violence at my residence, physically attacked twice & was the one removed instead of the perpetrater who has continued the abuse; opening mail, disposing of my belongings, etc & have been unable to get anyone involved to stop it! I’ve done nearly 6yrs worth of research on Post-Traumatic Stress (NOT a psychiatric disorder, but a form of an ABI) & also connecting it to MS…all on my computer that I just may loose as I’ve been unable to get an OoP. Would welcome anyone in the Chicago area to visit me as I’ve got plenty of documentation regarding what I’ve written. Would also like to know if others who attended the Doctors of the Darkside viewing in Chicago were photographed prior to admission as if they were a ‘person of interest’? Frank Summers was on the discussion panel & dismissed my concerns about MKULTRA & that it’s still going on, but haven’t been able to contact him since. Also tried to get CCR to represent me & had materials returned. Yep, in the U.S.!
    Incidentally all that garbage that Seligman spews as ‘science’ is…along with it’s mainstream Law of Attraction/positive thinking…has GREATLY contributed to many ‘friends’ ignoring me & keeping their distance because I’m perceived as being too ‘negative’ & too focused on ‘past drama’ that I just need to let go of! Are you F-ing kidding me?! I was in exceptional good health prior to the beginning of this in ’08, have lost my residence & 10s of thousands of dollars of my belongings, etc, etc & NO JUSTICE!
    I’ll stop now although that’s only a fraction of all I’ve been through since 2008 & may have possibly been an MKULTRA target my entire life…along with other members of my family. Some of them esp. my Dad may very well be dead because of what doctors & my step-mother did to him…& now to me. I’d love to see everyone involved in all of this be dropped into the marsh where they do SERE training…they’d be ringing that bell & crying “Mama” by the end of day 1. Ha! I’ve been doing SERE training for 6 years!

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jules. Good to hear from you, although I’m sorry to hear about your ongoing problems.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Julien Arbor wrote:

    Thanks Andy…glad that I’m still alive & hope to stay that way! Still fighting for justice, but need to focus on getting my health back & appropriate housing. Believe it or not…going through this really puts things into perspective & you even develop quite an amazing sense of humor. You should’ve heard me when I learned that a detainee had set up a Match profile when I didn’t even have internet connection! I also quit eating the last few days in jail due to detox & allergies. I GOT NO BOOST! 🙁 lol

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m glad to hear about how you have survived your ordeal, Jules. Wishing you the best.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Mark Bailey wrote:

    War crimes//when are they going to be charged with war crimes? or will it take 50 years and new governments to do this?

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s the key question, isn’t it, Mark? The refusal to address the crimes committed by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their lawyers has allowed the virus of torture to thrive in American society (hence disgusting propaganda like “Zero Dark Thirty”) and it’s difficult to see what will precipitate the change in mentality needed to hold these criminals to account.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Julien Arbor wrote:

    There is no ‘Moving Forward’ when war criminals continue to live freely in the U.S. This is all part of the mass illusion of the leading superiority of the U.S. & the ‘positive psychology’ spell that so many are under only serves to reinforce it. Cognitive disonance on a mass scale so most U.S. citizens keep their heads buried in the sand. Meanwhile Cheney cancels his trip to Canada for fear of being taken into custody & Holder lacks the gonads to do his job! And troops coming home to no services, jobs, etc

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Agreed about the illusions that keep people “in their place,” Jules. Unfortunately, Cheney didn’t cancel his recent trip to Canada, in October, just one back in March 2012. “I’m going to put back on my Darth Vader mask,” he “joked” during his speech at the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Toronto on Hallowe’en.
    Here’s a round-up of reporting about his recent visit:

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Diana Murtaugh Coleman shared this on Facebook, she wrote:

    From my friend, Andy Worthington, an independent investigative journalist in the UK, who has worked tirelessly on Guantanamo (and related issues) for years now. I’ve been encouraging people to see Martha Davis’s Doctors of the Dark Side, as well. Grateful that you brought it to my attention while in London. I’d like to find out how it might be possible to screen your film here. As always, thanks for your dedication, Andy!

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Diana. Great to hear from you. If you’re interested in showing my film, you can get it through the World Can’t Wait here:

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Diana Murtaugh Coleman wrote:

    Perfect. Thanks, Andy!

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re most welcome, Diana!

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Debra Sweet wrote:

    We love sharing Andy’s film. Look for Andy in the US in January —

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Debra. The cause is as Sisyphean as ever – or perhaps “Groundhog Day” is more appropriate – but I always look forward to spending time with my American friends, the people who should really be running the country!

Leave a Reply



Back to the top

Back to home page

Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

The Four Fathers on Bandcamp

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo


Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium



Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:


In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

The State of London

The State of London. 16 photos of London

Andy's Flickr photos



Tag Cloud

Afghans in Guantanamo Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners Center for Constitutional Rights CIA torture prisons Close Guantanamo Donald Trump Four Fathers Guantanamo Housing crisis Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer The Four Fathers Torture UK austerity UK protest US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo