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Homeland Security

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Release

  No. 649-05

DoD Reaffirms Medical Policies for Detainees


           The Department of Defense posted today recently issued guidance to the military services and commands reiterating policies regarding the care and handling of enemy prisoners of war, detainees, retained persons, and civilian internees. 

            Healthcare personnel have a duty to protect the physical and mental health of such individuals and to provide appropriate treatment for disease and injury, according to a policy memorandum released by Dr. William Winkenwerder, Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs.

            The policy memorandum, available at, details a set of principles and procedures that address the scope of healthcare personnel responsibilities and activities in which they may not participate.  In all cases, healthcare personnel will be guided by applicable law and are expected to act humanely and with professionalism.

            “Our policy is meant to make clear for our medical care providers that if a detainee provides information that directly bears upon a national security issue—for example, plans to commit a terrorist act that kills or harms Americans—the medical provider should, with proper documentation and approval, pass along the information to responsible security and intelligence authorities,” Winkenwerder said.

            Specific guidance in the overall policy includes: direction to accurately and completely create and maintain medical records on all detainees; to ensure clear separation of duties between personnel providing healthcare to detainees and behavioral science personnel consulting with interrogators; to carefully record disclosure of all patient-specific information for lawful purposes other than treatment; to report possible violations of applicable standards for the protection of detainees; and to ensure healthcare personnel have appropriate training regarding the care and treatment of detainees.

            Although detainees do not have an absolute right of confidentiality with respect to information they share with medical care providers, the general guidance is to maintain such information confidentially, except for approved and documented specific reasons.  This is the same standard that would apply in U.S. federal prisons.

            “Any detainee related information provided by healthcare personnel for reasons other than treatment must be for a specific purpose, documented and approved by a medical commander before it is released,” Winkenwerder said. “This process creates a strict set of guidelines to ensure the information is used only for appropriate purposes and is not misused.”


            “To the best of my knowledge we have no credible evidence that a military physician participated in detainee abuse,” said Winkenwerder.  “The department investigates credible allegations and if substantiated, holds accountable those who are responsible.  We expect military medical personnel, and all other service members, to abide by policies that require detainees be treated humanely and to report any suspected detainee mistreatment.”

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