Red Cross says doctors helped CIA "torture"

MIAMI Tue Apr 7, 2009 4:04pm EDT

A would-be immigrant casts his shadow on a Red Cross tent upon arriving at Arguineguin port in the Canary Islands of Gran Canaria early December 7, 2008. REUTERS/Borja Suarez

A would-be immigrant casts his shadow on a Red Cross tent upon arriving at Arguineguin port in the Canary Islands of Gran Canaria early December 7, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Borja Suarez

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MIAMI (Reuters) - Health workers violated medical ethics when they helped interrogate terrorism suspects who were tortured at secret CIA prisons overseas, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

The medical workers, thought to be doctors and psychologists, monitored prisoners while they were mistreated at CIA prisons and advised interrogators whether to continue, adjust or halt the abuse, the ICRC said in a report based on interviews with 14 prisoners in 2007.

One prisoner alleged that medical personnel monitored his blood oxygen levels while he was subjected to waterboarding, a simulated drowning designed to induce panic and widely considered to be torture, the ICRC said.

Other prisoners said that as they stood shackled with their arms chained above their heads, a doctor regularly measured the swelling in their legs and signaled when they should be allowed to sit down.

The ICRC interviewed 14 men who had been held in secret CIA prisons overseas before being sent to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2006.

The 14 are considered by the United States to be "high-value" al Qaeda suspects who plotted or carried out mass murders, including the September 11 attacks and the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings. They had been held by the CIA, most for more than three years, in extreme isolation and had not been allowed contact with each other when the ICRC interviewed them at Guantanamo in November 2007.

The ICRC said their claims had credence because they gave similar accounts of their treatment, including the actions of medical monitors whose names they never learned.

The ICRC monitors compliance with the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of war captives and keeps its reports secret, sharing them only with the detaining government.

The report, written in 2007, was posted on the New York Review of Books website on Monday night by journalist Mark Danner, who has not said publicly how he obtained it.

"VIOLATED ETHICAL DUTY"

He first published excerpts last month, including a portion in which the ICRC concluded the al Qaeda captives' treatment in the CIA prisons "constituted torture" and violated international law.

The report alleges collars were placed around some prisoners' necks and used to slam their heads against the walls, and that they were forced to stand with their arms shackled above them for two or three days and left to urinate or defecate on themselves.

The prisoners told the ICRC they were beaten and kicked, left naked for long periods, subjected to sleep deprivation, loud music, cold temperatures, rape threats and forced shaving. Some said they were denied solid food unless they cooperated with interrogators and one said he was confined in a crouching position in a box too short to stand in.

A previously undisclosed portion of the report concluded that medical workers who monitored or took part in the interrogations had violated their ethical duty to do no harm, preserve dignity and act in patients' best interest.

The ICRC said "any interrogation process that requires a health professional to either pronounce on the subject's fitness to withstand such a procedure, or which requires a health professional to monitor the actual procedure, must have inherent health risks."

"As such, the interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics," the ICRC concluded.

The "high-value" captives quoted in the report are still at the Guantanamo prison, which President Barack Obama has ordered shut down by January 2010, and debate continues over what should be done with them.

A military judge released a statement last month in which some of them bragged that they were "terrorists to the bone".

Bush administration officials have said the "enhanced interrogation" of those prisoners produced information that helped thwart attacks but have never provided specifics.

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Jackie Frank)

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