Sun, Sep 09, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Doctors slam abuse of military medicine at Guantanamo Bay

AP , LONDON

The US medical establishment seems to have turned a blind eye to the abuse of military medicine at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, doctors from around the world said in a letter published in a prestigious British medical journal.

Health care workers in the US military seem to have put their loyalty to the state above their duty to care for their patients -- and US regulatory bodies have done nothing to remedy the situation, the doctors said in a letter published in Friday's edition of The Lancet.

"The attitude of the US medical establishment appears to be one of `See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,'" the letter said.

This is not the first time medical journals such as The Lancet have been used as a platform to criticize the doctors working at the Guantanamo detention facility.

The letter compared the ongoing role of US doctors working at Guantanamo, whom they accuse of ignoring torture, to the South African doctors involved in the treatment of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died while being detained by security police.

Never popular internationally, the camp's reputation has been further tarnished by hunger strikes and suicides. Detainees began refusing food at the prison in August 2005, although the number of prisoners on hunger strike has fluctuated. The forced feeding of detainees, who are strapped into restraint chairs and fed through tubes reaching down their throats, has been particularly controversial.

The letter's authors argued last year that the forced feeding was "degrading and unethical" and accused the doctors involved of acting as if they were an arm of the military. Commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July echoed The Lancet's denunciation, calling on doctors to refuse to participate in the practice.

The World Medical Association says a prisoner should not be forcibly fed if a doctor believes the prisoner is capable of "unimpaired and rational judgment" to refuse treatment, a policy which the American Medical Association has endorsed.

Military officials have described the hunger strike as a "voluntary fast" intended to draw international sympathy, and have praised the efforts of medical staff to keep the detainees alive as heroic. When three detainees hanged themselves in their cells in June last year, the Navy rear admiral who was then the commander of Guantanamo called the suicides "an act of asymmetric warfare against us," to the outrage of human rights groups.

In their most recent letter to The Lancet, the doctors and 260 signatories from 16 countries including Britain, the US and South Africa, noted that no health care worker had yet been charged with any significant offense stemming from the so-called "war on terror," despite what it called "numerous instances" in which fraudulent records were kept for detainees who died as a result of failed interrogations.

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