Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Corpus Callosum Consensus

The British Medical Association and the President of the AMA have formally agreed with the Corpus Callosum
BMA meeting condemns doctors’ involvement in torture

Zosia Kmietowicz

Doctors’ leaders have condemned members of their profession who take part in torture or advise on techniques for interrogating prisoners and have called for a public denouncement of such practices to doctors around the world.

Documents made available under US freedom of information law and interviews with US military sources show that doctors at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison have been involved in "interrogation procedures that violate the laws of war," said Dr Helena McKeown, a representative of the conference of local medical committees (an annual conference of GPs held before the BMA’s meeting).

The doctors had been involved in making individualised interrogation plans for detainees and in supervising them, she told representatives at the BMA’s annual meeting in Manchester. They had advised on the minimum amount of bread and water a detainee would need to stay alive, sleep deprivation and isolation plans, stress positions, and extremes of heat and cold that a person could tolerate.

"Not only did care givers pass health information to military intelligence personnel, physicians assisted in the design of interrogation strategies, including sleep deprivation and other coercive methods tailored to detainees’ medical conditions. Medical personnel also coached interrogators on questioning technique," Dr McKeown told representatives.

The issue of doctors collaborating in torture had not received high enough priority by the profession and needed to be widely publicised, she said.

John Hughes, a GP in northern Manchester who assesses refugees for the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture, said that people had told him that doctors have both supervised and directed torture. "Doctors have been called upon to advise on issues such as ‘What is the maximum pain I can cause without killing someone?’" he said.

"Doctors collaborating in torture is totally unacceptable, no matter where they come from," said Dr McKeown. However, she accepted that some doctors were coerced into participating in torture against their will and that they needed support from colleagues to resist intimidation.

The president of the American Medical Association, Edward Hill, who was invited by representatives to address conference, condemned the participation of any doctor in torture or interrogation as "totally unacceptable and unethical."

The conference voted unanimously to censure doctors who collaborated in torture. Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of ethics at the BMA, said that plans were already afoot to strengthen important policy documents governing doctors’ role in torture at the assembly of the World Medical Association in October. These included the Declaration of Tokyo on the treatment of prisoners and the Declaration of Geneva on the Hippocratic oath.

"By amending these documents, medical records on prisoners will not be allowed to be released to interrogators [so that individualised torture plans can be drawn up]," said Dr Nathanson.

More news about the BMA annual representative meeting can be accessed in News and News Extra.