First, do no harm

FIRST, DO NO HARM…. Torture isn’t acceptable, no matter who’s inflicting the pain or coming up with legal rationalizations for it. But there’s something uniquely offensive about medical professionals who were directly involved with the torture of detainees at CIA secret prisons.

Medical personnel were deeply involved in the abusive interrogation of terrorist suspects held overseas by the Central Intelligence Agency, including torture, and their participation was a “gross breach of medical ethics,” a long-secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded.

Based on statements by 14 prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda and were moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in late 2006, Red Cross investigators concluded that medical professionals working for the C.I.A. monitored prisoners undergoing waterboarding, apparently to make sure they did not drown. Medical workers were also present when guards confined prisoners in small boxes, shackled their arms to the ceiling, kept them in frigid cells and slammed them repeatedly into walls, the report said.

Facilitating such practices, which the Red Cross described as torture, was a violation of medical ethics even if the medical workers’ intentions had been to prevent death or permanent injury, the report said. But it found that the medical professionals’ role was primarily to support the interrogators, not to protect the prisoners, and that the professionals had “condoned and participated in ill treatment.”

At times, according to the detainees’ accounts, medical workers “gave instructions to interrogators to continue, to adjust or to stop particular methods.”

Georgetown University law professor M. Gregg Bloche called the report’s findings “a disturbing confirmation of our worst fears about medical professionals’ involvement in directing and modulating cruel treatment and torture.”

The Red Cross report, completed in 2007, was obtained by journalist Mark Danner and posted to the New York Review of Books’ site last night.

Read it and weep.

Update: Dan Froomkin adds a very important question: “[T]he report, which was based on interviews with the 14 ‘high value’ detainees transferred from the secret prisons to Guantanamo in September 2006, also raises and expresses ‘grave concerns’ about a very significant unanswered question: What happened to all the other detainees who passed through the secret CIA prisons who we still don’t know about?”

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation