Doctors, psychologists and lawyers played a key role in rationalising torture methods practised in clandestine CIA detention centres, according to an article published in the US-based New England Journal of Medicine.
The publication based its article on data from a report last year by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that revealed CIA tortures during the presidency of George W. Bush.
“The report adds to our knowledge of how lawyers and physicians can collaborate with each other to rationalise torture — a dynamic that has also played out in military prisons, including Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and even in some US prisons, especially supermax prisons and others that rely heavily on solitary confinement,” doctors George Annas and Sondra Crosby wrote in their article.
Physicians got involved to determine whether the terrorists were “medically fit for torture” to avoid deaths and finally to oversee the healing of the prisoners.
According to the journal, the physicians were also involved in devising new torture methods.
The article says the CIA and Justice Department lawyers assured doctors of immunity under a legal cover tailored to cover these practices.
“Physicians and lawyers consistently gave themselves permission to do whatever they agreed among themselves,” the contribution said.
One of the torture methods was rectal feeding conducted on prisoners who were on hunger strike, to demonstrate dominance over the inmate.
Following the publication of the Senate report, Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, had argued that rectal feeding was “done for medical reasons”.
However, the journal points out that “there is, of course, no medical indication for rectal feeding”, and emphasises that “the fact that it was done by or under the supervision of a physician cannot convert this torture technique into a medical procedure”.
“Beyond the elimination of black sites, attorneys will have to stand with physicians who want to maintain their ethics (and follow, among other legal standards, the Geneva Conventions), support health professionals in their refusal to torture and refuse to give CIA agents and contractors prospective legal immunity for violating human rights laws,” says the report.
“And in all contexts, physicians should act only in ways consistent with good and accepted medical practice, with the consent of their patients,” concludes the article.
Crosby led the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights and Annas teaches bioethics at Boston University.