Unethical torture complicity of Guantanamo medical personnel
Dr. Adnan Siddiqui
As the hunger strike demonstrating against indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay enters its 4th month, healthcare professionals from across the world have criticised the treatment of detainees.
The British Medical Association has insisted that "Doctors at Guantanamo Bay should not be involved in force feeding hunger strikers" and also "urged medics to adhere to international codes of practice." Additionally, doctors issued calls for action in The Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine, something echoed by the American Medical Association.
The predictable response from Guantanamo Bay spokesman Capt Robert Durand was that the 140 odd military doctors, nurses and corpsmen were signed up to carry out lawful orders and the force feeding was a lawful order to 'preserve life’. He dismissed these calls to uphold medical ethics and respect patient autonomy as 'an opinion’ and that 'medical personnel had to obey orders’.
Guantanamo Bay is now infamous for its transgressions against the rule of law, but it has also had a pernicious effect on medical ethics; healthcare professionals have been complicit in supervising cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as in dehumanising detainees, many of whom are cleared for release. The latest revelations show that the prisoners are now being given the medication Reglan to try and stop vomiting in an attempt to break the hunger strike which is the only means of legitimate protest they have left.
The hunger strike may or may not be broken, but the unseen casualties are the consciences and professional standing of the healthcare professionals at Guantanamo Bay who in following orders are betraying the ethics of their profession. Chains of command should not end with the"lawful orders" of commanders but with the legitimate needs of the patients they are charged to care of. The war on terror has revealed many abuses, but we must not forget that there are brave people like Ed Snowden, John Kiriakou, former Guantanamo Bay guards Brandon Neely and Terry Holdbrooks, and many others who have dissented against "lawful orders" and behaved ethically. Our hope and plea is that there will be healthcare professionals who take the brave step of disobeying orders and doing what is right for their patients and what is expected from their profession, and not become punitive agents of the state.
Dr. Adnan Siddiqui is British Family General Practioner who has been heavily involved in human rights and relief work for almost two decades. He is also a Director for CagePrisoners