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Report: CIA Doctors Violated Medical Ethics

August 9, 2010 - 8:05 AM | by: LA Holmes

CIA doctors who oversaw enhanced interrogation techniques violated medical ethics, researchers say.

A report out this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association claims that physicians in the CIA Office of Medical Services (OMS) violated medical ethical standards by approving and overseeing enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding.

“According to OMS guidelines, physicians and other health care professionals performed on-site medical evaluations before and during interrogation, and waterboarding required the presence of a physician,” say researchers Leonard S. Rubenstein, of Johns Hopkins, and retired Brigadier General Dr. Stephen Xenakis, of the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

“Exercising these functions violated the ethical standard that physicians may never use their medical skills to facilitate torture or be present when torture is taking place.”

Rubenstein and Xenakis based their commentary on documents released by the Obama administration in 2009.

OMS physicians who advised the agency and the Justice Department approved most techniques for use as long as certain limitations were observed, such as decibel levels for noise exposure, weight loss or malnutrition from starvation techniques, and time limits for cold exposure and confinement.

These limits, the authors claim, allowed OMS doctors to certify that no one practice would lead to “severe mental of physical pain or suffering,” but say the doctors failed to take into account the effect these methods in aggregate could have on detainees.

Rubenstein and Xenakis also claim the physicians did not follow standard protocols in making their recommendations.

“The OMS failed to take account of pertinent medical and nonmedical literature about the severe adverse effects of enhanced methods,” including waterboarding.

They claim such oversights were made deliberately, in order to encourage the use of enhanced interrogation.

“[I]t is possible that the DOJ might have been more constrained in approving techniques that amounted to torture,” had doctors at the highest levels been responsible in their research and recommendations, Rubenstein and Xenakis write.

According to a U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the multiple investigations currently underway into past detention practices, says the government stands by decisions made during the Bush Administration to employ enhanced methods, and supports the role CIA physicians played.

“The authors of the commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association appear to believe the terrorist detention program should never have gone forward. They’re entitled to their opinion, but that’s not what the U.S. Government decided in the wake of 9/11,” the official told Fox.

” The White House approved the concept, and the Justice Department endorsed the methods. If someone wants to re-argue history, they can, but they don’t have the right to distort the role played by the CIA’s medical personnel. Their job was to give key terrorists-who were being held legally-the best possible medical care and to ensure that interrogation techniques, which the Justice Department had ruled to be lawful, were applied safely. For that they deserve thanks, not criticism.”

The Obama Administration has held that CIA officials involved in the enhanced interrogation program would not face repercussions.

“It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in an April 2009 statement.

Rubenstein and Xenakis call for further investigation into the CIA physicians’ role, but the administration is unlikely to retroactively punish anyone who lawfully carried out their directives under the program, and it doesn’t appear the doctors will face repercussions from the medical community.

The CIA’s treatment of detainees came under scrutiny in 2005 during the Bush Administration, when reports surfaced of the use of waterboarding and other enhanced methods came to light.

President Obama has publicly decried the method as torture and later banned its use in interrogations.

“I believe that waterboarding was torture. And I think that the-whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake,” Obama said at a primetime news conference in April 2009.

Interrogation methods have since been pared back to those that are specifically outlined in the Army Field Manual, but the U.S. has yet to officially declare any of the enhanced methods torture.

Still, the intelligence official said, despite the fact that the enhanced interrogation program ended early in Obama’s term, it will still garner criticism.

“[T]his program, which has been over for more than 18 months now and produced more than its share of essential intelligence when our country needed it most, will be the target of second-guessers for years to come. That’s just the way it is.”

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