Military Denies Medically Abusing Detainees

The U.S. military on Thursday denied charges that health workers were broadly complicit in alleged abuse of terrorism suspects by the military in Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The charges first surfaced in The Lancet, a British medical journal, in an article last year by a University of Minnesota professor that said some U.S. military doctors falsified death certificates to cover up killings and hid evidence of beatings.

It said U.S. military medics revived a detainee who had collapsed after a beating so that abuse could continue.

Defense officials said a study, carried out by the Army’s own surgeon general Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, did not support the charges.

“The bottom line conclusion is that there was no evidence of systematic problems in detainee medical care,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

He declined to be more specific or to deny that there might have been isolated cases of improper cooperation between doctors and intelligence personnel questioning prisoners in the war on terror.

“That’s not suggesting that he (Kiley) didn’t find some things that he wants to make some suggestions on,” Whitman said.

Rights groups have charged that military medical workers cooperated with interrogators by revealing physical or psychological problems of their patients and, in some cases, even failed to report knowledge of physical abuse.

But Whitman said the study found no widespread problems “in the way in which medical people, medical professionals, are carrying out their duties in the field with respect to detention operations.”

The study is scheduled for release at a Pentagon news conference later on Thursday.

Assistant Defense Secretary for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder in June issued updated guidelines for medical personnel growing out of Pentagon investigations into physical abuse and sexual humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

The four-page Winkenwerder memorandum stressed that health care personnel charged with the medical care of prisoners “have a duty to protect their physical and mental health and provide appropriate treatment for disease.”

But the guidelines do not prohibit military medical personnel from helping to shape interrogations by using knowledge of a prisoner’s medical or mental condition. Nor do they bar them from helping in interrogations defined by the government as illegal.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Physicians for Human Rights group has charged that the Winkenwerder memo is riddled with loopholes that open the door to possible abuses. It called the guidelines, “a major affront” to the good role that military physicians historically have played.

Dr. Burton Lee III, the physician of former President Bush, said in an article last week in the Washington Post that he was deeply disturbed by “evidence that military medical personnel have planed a role in this abuse” of detainees.

“These new (Winkenwerder) guidelines distort traditional ethical rules beyond recognition to serve the interests of interrogators, not doctors and detainees,” wrote Lee, a member of Physicians for Human Rights.

The American Psychological Association says that its members can help in military interrogations, but only to ensure “that such processes are safe and ethical for all participants.” It forbids them to hurt patients safety or well-being.

The American Psychiatric Association says it is planning a similar policy statement specifically applying to situations such as Guantanamo.