July 7, 2005

Pentagon denies medically abusing detainees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Thursday denied
charges that health workers were broadly complicit in alleged
abuse of terrorism suspects by the military in Cuba, Iraq and

The charges first surfaced in The Lancet, a British medical
journal, in an article last year by a University of Minnesota
professor that said some U.S. military doctors falsified death
certificates to cover up killings and hid evidence of beatings.

It said U.S. military medics revived a detainee who had
collapsed after a beating so that abuse could continue.

Defense officials said a study, carried out by the Army's
own surgeon general Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, did not support the

"The bottom line conclusion is that there was no evidence
of systematic problems in detainee medical care," Pentagon
spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

He declined to be more specific or to deny that there might
have been isolated cases of improper cooperation between
doctors and intelligence personnel questioning prisoners in the
war on terror.

"That's not suggesting that he (Kiley) didn't find some
things that he wants to make some suggestions on," Whitman

Rights groups have charged that military medical workers
cooperated with interrogators by revealing physical or
psychological problems of their patients and, in some cases,
even failed to report knowledge of physical abuse.

But Whitman said the study found no widespread problems "in
the way in which medical people, medical professionals, are
carrying out their duties in the field with respect to
detention operations."

The study is scheduled for release at a Pentagon news
conference later on Thursday.

Assistant Defense Secretary for Health Affairs William
Winkenwerder in June issued updated guidelines for medical
personnel growing out of Pentagon investigations into physical
abuse and sexual humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail in

The four-page Winkenwerder memorandum stressed that health
care personnel charged with the medical care of prisoners "have
a duty to protect their physical and mental health and provide
appropriate treatment for disease."

But the guidelines do not prohibit military medical
personnel from helping to shape interrogations by using
knowledge of a prisoner's medical or mental condition. Nor do
they bar them from helping in interrogations defined by the
government as illegal.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Physicians for Human
Rights group has charged that the Winkenwerder memo is riddled
with loopholes that open the door to possible abuses. It called
the guidelines, "a major affront" to the good role that
military physicians historically have played.

Dr. Burton Lee III, the physician of former President Bush,
said in an article last week in the Washington Post that he was
deeply disturbed by "evidence that military medical personnel
have planed a role in this abuse" of detainees.

"These new (Winkenwerder) guidelines distort traditional
ethical rules beyond recognition to serve the interests of
interrogators, not doctors and detainees," wrote Lee, a member
of Physicians for Human Rights.

The American Psychological Association says that its
members can help in military interrogations, but only to ensure
"that such processes are safe and ethical for all
participants." It forbids them to hurt patients safety or

The American Psychiatric Association says it is planning a
similar policy statement specifically applying to situations
such as Guantanamo.