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New report detail torture of detainees aided by medical professionals

A shocking report released Nov. 4 confirms in detail the role of medical professionals in the torture of detainees in U.S. custody from 2002 to 2012.  An independent panel of distinguished military, medical, and legal experts found that physicians and psychologists working with the CIA helped design and implement cruel, inhumane, and degrading abuses of detainees, in clear conflict with established professional principles and laws. Although government agencies have taken steps to address some of these practices, the government continues to follow policies contrary to standards of medical ethics.

I was the only elected official serving on the panel.  I am the author of a bill in the New York legislature to bar any New York-licensed health care professional from cooperating with or participating in torture or improper treatment of prisoners, and I chair the State Assembly Committee on Health.

The panel’s recommendations include a full investigation of medical practices in detention facilities; improved instruction in human rights and ethical principles in military medical training; strengthening ethical standards among professional medical organizations; and passing of state laws disciplining health professionals for participation in abuses.

My bill, A. 4440 (Gottfried)/S. 2397 (Hoylman), would make participation in torture or improper treatment of a prisoner grounds for professional discipline of a New York-licensed health care professional, including revoking a license. The state licenses health care professionals and sets standards for professional conduct.  No physician or other health care professional should be allowed to use his or her education, training, and professional status to participate in the torture or improper treatment of prisoners.

The report, Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, details the role played by the Central Intelligence Agency’s “Office of Medical Services” in reviewing and approving abuses, as well as advising the Department of Justice on the legality of “enhanced interrogation” techniques such as waterboarding, wall slamming, and extreme sleep deprivation.  U.S. policies have required health professionals to participate in practices forbidden by professional ethical standards, and deceptively designated psychologists as “safety officers” in order to justify these policies.
Health care professionals deserve to know that professional ethics are backed up by the law.  I believe that our government’s torture program would have been greatly reduced, if not ended, if even a few physicians had refused to participate because their licenses were at stake.  I believe that would have sent a shock wave up to the highest levels.

The task force assembled by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and supported by the IMAP and the Open Society Foundations featured a range of practicing health care professionals, ethicists, military representatives, and experts on human rights and international law.  Participants included Dr. Allen Keller, Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture; Brigadier General (Ret.) Steven Xenakis, MD; Leonard Rubenstein, Director of the Program on Human Rights, Health, and Conflict at Johns Hopkins; and Albert Shimkus of the U.S. Naval War College.  IMAP is a non-profit, non-partisan health care study institute located at Columbia University and dedicated to the principles of professionalism in medical conduct.  It is headed by David J. Rothman, Professor of Social Medicine at Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons and Professor of History, Columbia University.

The full report can be found online through  For more information on the legislation, including bill text and a summary, go to and enter “A4440”.