Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror

A task force report by Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and Open Society Foundations (OSF). This report, Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the "War on Terror" , is based on two years of review of records in the public domain by a 19-member task force. The report details how Department of Defense (DoD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) policies institutionalized a variety of interventions by military and intelligence agency doctors and psychologists that breach ethical standards to promote well-being and avoid harm. These interventions included: 

  • 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. 

Despite shying away from some of the harsher tactics practiced under the Bush Administration, some policies continue under the Obama Administration, policies that “undermine standards of professional conduct” for interrogation, hunger strikes, and reporting abuse, reports the Task Force. These include:

  • issuing protocols requiring doctors and nurses to participate in the force-feeding of detainees, including forced extensive bodily restraints for up to two hours twice a day;
  • enabling interrogators access to medical and psychological information about detainees for exploitation by interrogators; and
  • permitting clinical care for detainees to suffer from the inability or failure of clinicians to address causes of detainee distress from torture. 

The report also incudes a list of recommendations for stopping such practices, moving from torture to caring for people held in detention, as well as review by the Senate Intelligence Committee of past practices and strengthening professional standards for treatment of detainees and accountability measures for participation in cruel and inhuman practices.

Publication Date: 
Nov 1, 2013
torture, medical ethics, CIA, Department of Defense, guantanamo bay, detainees, prisoner's rights