U.S. issues rules on detainees

Military doctors given guidelines on roles in hunger strikes, interrogations

June 07, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon placed new restrictions yesterday on how doctors can be involved in interrogations of detainees, but critics deplored any policy that gives medical professionals a role, saying it could lead questioners to use harsher tactics than they would without medical advice.

The military's use of medical professionals in interrogations has drawn fire from human rights groups and medical ethicists. They have charged that doctors have been unethically used at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by force-feeding detainees on hunger strikes and providing medical advice to help interrogators.

William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs who approved the new policy, said it was written to ensure that health care professionals play an appropriate role. The policy attempts to draw a clear distinction between medical personnel who care for the health of detainees and mental health professionals, called "behavioral science consultants," who assist interrogators.

Winkenwerder, in a conference call with reporters, said "consultants" do not take part in interrogations. Instead, he said, they make psychological assessments of prisoners, but are not allowed to shape interrogations with their knowledge of a subject's phobias or medical vulnerabilities.

Leonard S. Rubenstein, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, said the military should prohibit psychologists or doctors from aiding in the questioning of detainees. "They are using their professional knowledge to hurt people," he said. "The bottom line is health professionals should not be involved in interrogations."

The guidelines are part of a policy directive for medical personnel that was due to be released with the Army Field Manual and another directive on the treatment of detainees.

But the Field Manual has been held up by objections from members of Congress, who are worried that it might not go far enough to ensure prisoners are treated humanely. The Times reported Monday that the Pentagon has decided to leave out a key part of the Geneva Convention that bans "humiliating and degrading treatment."

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, yesterday sent a letter to President Bush, saying such an omission would "make our troops and our country less safe." "Given the current situation in Afghanistan and Iraq," he wrote, "it is an especially bad time to send a signal to the world that we no longer abide by internationally accepted norms for the treatment of prisoners."

The directive released yesterday also makes no mention of international law or treaties.

"It is outrageous that there is no reference to Geneva," said M. Gregg Bloche, a Georgetown University law professor and author of an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that was one of the first disclosures of the work of the behavioral consultants.

The most controversial of the new rules are likely to be those governing the "behavioral science consultants," psychologists or other behavioral experts who advise interrogators.

The American Psychiatric Association's guidelines prohibit its members from taking part in interrogations. And the new restrictions on doctors working as interrogation consultants is a shift, Bloche said.

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