Role of docs at Gitmo under new scrutiny

June 24, 2005 at 9:40 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) -- Pressure is growing for a full enquiry into the role of medical staff in alleged abuses of U.S.-held terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and elsewhere.

An article this week in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine reported on standing instructions to medical personnel in U.S. Southern Command -- which runs the military's detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

The instructions say that communication with detainees is "not confidential and... not subject to the assertion of privileges..."

They further require medical personnel to report any information from detainees that has bearing on "the accomplishment of a military or a national security mission."

The journal said the instructions make medical personnel "part of Guantanamo's surveillance network, dissolving the Pentagon's purported separation between intelligence gathering and patient care."

Pentagon officials told the New York Times that the practices at the detention center violated no ethics guidelines, and they disputed the conclusions of the journal's article.

Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and former Army brigadier general in the medical corps, told the newspaper, "This behavior is not consistent with our medical responsibility or any of the codes that guide our conduct as doctors."

Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health, told the Times that new Pentagon guidelines made public earlier this month barred military doctors from engaging in unethical conduct. "But," the paper adds, "in a briefing for reporters... he declined to say whether the guidelines would prohibit some of the activities described by former interrogators and others."

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