Monday, June 12, 2006

American Medical Association policy

The AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) has adopted a policy stating that it is unethical for physicians to help interrogate prisoners (source 1, source 2).

We have known for some time that health personnel, particularly mental health professionals, have been taking an active role in interrogations. Now, according to the new policy, "physicians in all circumstances must never be involved in activities that are physically or mentally coercive." Doctors who learn of any coercive interrogation are also ethically obligated to report it to authorities.

However, doctors may still participate in developing non-coercive interrogation techniques for general training purposes. In reponse to this, Leonard Rubenstein, Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights says:

We are deeply concerned even with this level of involvement, because of the ambiguity of that qualifying language. It's simply not reasonable to require a physician to determine, in the abstract, whether a particular interrogation strategy will or will not be used in a way that inflicts harm, or whether it is clearly 'humane' or legal. Given the nature of interrogation, we believe it best, as the APA and WMA policies do, to insulate physicians entirely from the design of interrogation strategies, and we hope the AMA will fine-tune its policy accordingly.


Previously, in May of this year, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) adopted an ethical rule prohibiting psychiatrists from participating in interrogation of prisoners and detainees altogether. This strong stand was welcomed by Physicians for Human Rights.

With respect to the new AMA policy, Rubenstein is quoted as saying (PHRUSA press release)

The new AMA policy goes a long way toward protecting the ethical commitments and integrity of all military medical personnel. While the AMA rule leaves a bit more room for interpretation than do the other medical association policies -- something the AMA can and should quickly remedy -- we believe this policy can only be read as an unambiguous rejection of the Pentagon's use of military physicians to support individual interrogations, as BSCT members or in any other capacity.


Rubenstein added that the AMA, APA and other medical associations can be expected to press for elimination of the BSCT role in view of their new policies banning direct physician involvement in interrogations.

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Further reading: Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces, a report from Physicians for Human Rights.
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