Doctors' Group Says It Has Evidence US Military Tortured Detainees
By Al Pessin
18 June 2008
A group of American doctors that promotes human rights says it has examined 11 former detainees who were held by the U.S. military, and determined they were systematically tortured with the complicity of medical personnel. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The group Physicians for Human Rights says the alleged abuse is continuing to have long-term effects on the detainees, and that the conduct of the troops involved and their commanders amounts to war crimes. In a report issued Wednesday, the group says the abusive techniques included beatings, stress positions, extreme heat and cold, sexual humiliation, threats of attacks on their families and even rape.
The report says none of the 11 detainees was ever formally charged with a crime, and all were released, some after several years in custody.
Members of the doctors' group did extensive physical and psychological examinations of the former detainees. One of the investigators, Dr. Allen Keller, says they found solid evidence to support the detainees' claims of mistreatment in U.S. custody in the aftermaths of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
"My colleagues and I conducted detailed medical evaluations of these former Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo detainees and found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse, often causing lasting suffering," he said.
Dr. Keller, who is experienced in dealing with people who claim to have been tortured, says the evidence includes scars and damage to bones and joints, as well as clear signs of psychological trauma, including insomnia, nightmares, anxiety, severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He says the injuries match the detainees' allegations of abuse.
Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman questioned the claims, saying the group acknowledges it does not have medical records for the former detainees from before they were taken into U.S. custody. He notes that the Defense Department has done at least 12 investigations of abuse allegations, and would do more if presented with credible evidence, but he is not sure whether this report will merit such a response.
"The United States government's policies, procedures and doctrine of this department has always supported the principle that we will treat everyone in our custody humanely," he said. "And where we find that there are people that do not live up to those values or that performance, we take action and we do hold people accountable."
Whitman also notes that the group examined only 11 former detainees of the thousands who have been held in U.S. custody during the last seven years, and he questioned whether the former detainees would be truthful.
Although similar abuse allegations have been made before, the president of Physicians for Human Rights, Leonard Rubenstein, says this report is different.
"It shows in a depth never before documented the human consequences of the Pentagon's decision to adopt techniques like prolonged isolation, stress positions, severe humiliation," he explained. "For most of the men, almost all of the men, the result was a horrific stew of pain, degradation and enduring suffering."
Much of the alleged abuse was related to interrogations, but Rubenstein says some was what he calls "gratuitous cruelty" by guards.
The report also charges that military medical personnel participated in abusive interrogations, making sure detainees were healthy enough to continue but not stopping the abuse or reporting it.
Some of the techniques alleged in the report were approved by top Defense Department officials during a brief period in 2002 and 2003, but the approval was later rescinded. The detainees quoted in the report, whose names are not revealed, indicate they were abused approximately between 2001 and 2004.
Rubenstein called on the U.S. government to compensate the men, and to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the alleged abuse.
"The truth of what happened to these men as human beings needs to come out," he added. "There has to be accountability for all responsible for what happened, not just the people on the site, the people up the chain of command, who either authorized or condoned what happened.
One of the doctors involved in the investigation, Sondra Crosby, has spent 15 years working with victims of torture. She believes these allegations are credible, and says the "ongoing suffering" of these men "is palpable."
"The magnitude of the horrific abuses - psychological, physical and sexual - that I saw when evaluating these men are the worst I've ever seen. And they have had a profound effect on me," she said.
The senior medical advisor to Physicians for Human Rights, Dr. Vince Iacopino, says the alleged involvement of medical personnel would be serious ethical violation.
"It's pretty clear, after looking at a number of those cases, how unwilling the clinicians are to venture into the realm of protecting people and speaking out for their health and well-being," he said. "Rather, they are helping to keep people in a state of fitness for the interrogation purpose."
The report says U.S. military medical workers administered injections without telling the detainees what drugs they were being given. It also charges that personnel who treated the detainees for routine medical problems and provided psychological counseling shared information with interrogators, who used it to increase pressure on the detainees. The Defense Department has said in the past that such activity is prohibited.
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