A leaked report that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) wrote in 2007 alleged that doctors helped the CIA ill treat terror suspects during interrogation sessions held while they were detained by the CIA at undisclosed locations before arriving at Guantánamo Bay.

The 40-page ICRC report, titled “ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen ‘High Value’ Detainees in CIA Custody”, was published on the website of the New York Review of Books by writer, journalist and university professor Mark Danner, an expert on foreign affairs and international conflict. He has not said publicly how he came to have the report.

In September 2006, President Bush revealed that 14 “high value” detainees were transferred from a CIA High Value detainee program to the custody of the Department of Defense at Guantánamo.

In its report, which carries a covering letter addressed to the CIA, the ICRC said before this public announcement, the US government had neither informed them of the CIA detainee program nor that the 14 were in US custody, despite having asked the US government about 13 of them in letters they starting sending in 2003.

The ICRC said that the aim of the report was to “provide a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention” of the fourteen while they were held by the CIA, as determined from information they gave the ICRC in interviews. The interviews took place at Guantánamo.

In a section about health provision and the role of medical staff, the report describes three main roles played by the medical people the detainees encountered. The first was “a direct role in monitoring the ongoing ill treatment, which, in some instances involved the health personnel directly participating while certain methods were used”.

The second role was carrying out medical checks just before and after each transfer, and the third role was to provide healthcare to treat the consequences of ill treatment and any natural ailments that arose during the detainees’ detention.

The ICRC report alleges that the detainees said in their interviews that medical staff “gave instructions to interrogators to continue, to adjust, or to stop particular methods”. As with all the staff at the detention centres, the health personnel did not identify themselves, but the detainees presumed “from their presence and function” that they were either psychologists or physicians.

In one method, described as “suffocation by water”, detainees described health personnel as being direct participants of the ill treatment, for instance in one case a detainee described a health person monitoring his oxygen level from a meter placed on his finger (presumably a pulse oxymeter, noted the report).

One detainee, Khaled Shaik Mohammed said a health person was in the room each time he was given the water suffocation method and sometimes intervened to stop it.

Other detainees described being shackled in a standing position for long periods during which a health person would examine them and recommend either that the shackling stop or continue with adjustments. One such detainee, Bin Attash, who has one leg amputated below the knee, was held with his hands above his head, and from time to time a person whom he presumed to be a doctor would measure his leg (he presumed it was to check for swelling) and sometimes recommend that he be allowed to sit, but still with his hands shackled above his head.

Another detainee, referred to as Mr Hambali, said that a health person who intervened to stop the standing shackling method told him “I look after your body only because we need you for information”.

There are further descriptions of alleged participation by health professionals.

The ICRC report makes the point that while it is acceptable and ethical for medical professionals to check the health of prisoners held lawfully, for instance to verify whether they are fit to be questioned, it is unacceptable, and indeed unethical, for medical professionals to use their skills to further the purpose of unlawful interrogation, including “ruling on the permissibility or not of any form of physical or psychological ill-treatment”.

The ICRC said that in the case of these 14 detainees, the purpose of the medical personnel appears to have been to “serve the interrogation process and not the patient”.

Sources: http://www.nybooks.com/icrc-report.pdf.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD