Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"We don't torture" = "I am not a crook"

Torture is a hard sell. Especially to medical ethicists. The New York Times reports (Nov. 13, print edition) that the Pentagon flew academics and some representatives of medical organizations to the internment center at Guantamamo (Gitmo) for a whirlwind one day guided tour to convince them that military doctors were not engaging in ethically unacceptable practices. But the president of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Steven Sharfstein, was not convinced and said the APA’s members’ assembly unanimously voted on Saturday to recommend a strict code of ethics that would forbid participation in activities widely reported in the lay and medical press:
He said the main concern was theuse of military psychiatrists as members of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams, known as bisuit teams, to advise interrogators at Guantanamo.

“Our position is very direct,” Dr. Sharfstein said. “Psychiatrists should not participate on these biscuit teams because it is inappropriate.”
The dawn to evening tour featured a full court press by the Gitmo commanding general, the US Surgeon General and medical personnel at the prison, who tried to convince Sharfstein and others that the psychiatrists and other medical personnel were only used for “building rapport,” not inflicting harm. But prior reports, including in the New York Times, reported that doctors were used to refine coercive maneuvers by advising on how to increase stress and exploit particular fears, gleaned from medical files.

As The Times reports, the military didn’t make medical personnel available for interviews. Moreover the claim that medical personnel do not violate medical ethics is hedged by a distinction they make between providing medical care and “behavioral consultation” where there is no direct caregiving and hence presumably no medical ethical duties either. The tour lasted a few hours and didn’t include any interviews with detainees.

The American Psychological Association, in contrast to their medical colleagues, have been more tolerant of military motives, The Times reports:
The group issued a report in July, saying that psychologists serving as consultants to interrogations involving national security should be “mindful of factors unique to these roles and contexts that require special ethical considerations.:

That position is markedly more tolerant of participation in interrogations than that of the psychhiatrists’ groups, whose members are physicians and are guided by the tenet to do no harm.

Meanwhile, Time magazine reports (via Forbes) that the CIA has been hiding evidence of torture:
WASHINGTON (AFX) - CIA interrogators apparently tried to cover up the death of an Iraqi 'ghost detainee' who died while being interrogated at Abu Ghraib prison, Time magazine reported today, after obtaining hundreds of pages of documents, including an autopsy report, about the case.

The death of secret detainee Manadel al-Jamadi was ruled a homicide in a Defense Department autopsy, Time reported, adding that documents it recently obtained included photographs of his battered body, which had been kept on ice to keep it from decomposing, apparently to conceal the circumstances of his death.

The details about his death emerge as US officials continue to debate congressional legislation to ban torture of foreign detainees by US troops overseas, and efforts by the George W. Bush administration to obtain an exemption for the CIA from any future torture ban.

Jamadi was abducted by US Navy Seals on November 4, 2003, on suspicion of harbouring explosives and involvement in the bombing of a Red Cross centre in Baghdad that killed 12 people, and was placed in Abu Ghraib as an unregistered detainee.

After some 90 minutes of interrogation by CIA officials, he died of 'blunt force injuries' and 'asphyxiation', according to the autopsy documents obtained by Time.

A forensic scientist who later reviewed the autopsy report told Time that the most likely cause of Jamadi's death was suffocation, which would have occurred when an empty sandbag was placed over his head while his arms were secured up and behind his back, in a crucifixion-like pose.

Blood was mopped up with a chlorine solution before the interrogation scene could be examined by an investigator, Time wrote, adding that after Jamadi's death, a bloodstained hood that had covered his head had disappeared.

Photos of grinning US soldiers crouching over Jamadi's corpse were among the disturbing images that emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in 2004, prompting international outrage and internal US military investigations.

Last week, the New Yorker magazine reported that the US government's policies on interrogating terrorist suspects may preclude the prosecution of CIA agents who commit abuses or even kill detainees, and said the CIA had been implicated in the death of at least four detainees.

Mark Swanner, the CIA agent who interrogated Jamadi, has not been charged with a crime and continues to work for the agency. He told investigators that he did not harm Jamadi, Time wrote.
When I hear President Bush say, “We do not torture,” I hear another Presidential remonstrance, Richard Nixon declaring with equal fervor, “I am not a crook.”

But he was. And we do.