A panel of medical and legal experts has alleged that doctors and psychologists working in U.S. detention centres such as Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were asked to participate in intelligence gathering and security practices that violated the health profession's ethical principles and duty to do no harm.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) and the CIA "improperly demanded that U.S. military and intelligence agency health professionals participate in practices that inflicted severe harm on detainees in U.S. custody," says a report from the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the George Soros-funded non-governmental organization Open Society Foundations.

The practices included "designing, participating in, and enabling torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment," according to the report, which was written by a task force that included experts from the military, ethics, medical, public health and legal fields.

Force fed prisoners, took part in interrogations

The task force alleges that DoD practices and policies impeded doctors' ability to provide proper medical care and co-opted them into violating professional standards and ethics through actions that included:

  • Force feeding competent detainees engaged in hunger strikes, which goes against the guidelines of the World Medical Association and the American Medical Association. 
  • Participating in abusive interrogations.
  • Consulting on conditions of confinement to increase the disorientation and anxiety of detainees.
  • Enabling the use of detainees' personal medical and psychological information for purposes of interrogation.
  • Failing to report abuses against detainees "under recognized international standards."

The report alleges that to get around the standards that would normally govern the actions of health professionals, agencies adopted special rules for military health personnel that "substantially deviate from ethical standards traditionally applied to civilian medical personnel."

'Physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice.'- Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University

"The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve," said Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University and a member of the task force that wrote the report.

"It's clear that in the name of national security, the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again."

CIA, Pentagon call report 'erroneous'

Guantanamo feeding chair

A U.S. medic explains the feeding chair at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay. (Chantal Valery/AFP/Getty Images)

The CIA and the Pentagon have called the report's findings "erroneous" and said they are full of inaccuracies.

Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale told the BBC that none of the experts who wrote the report had access to the detainees, their medical records or the procedures at the U.S. naval base detention centre in Guantanamo Bay.

A CIA spokesman stressed that the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program was terminated in 2009 and that CIA no longer has detainees in custody.

The report alleges that the CIA's Office of Medical Services "played a critical role in reviewing and approving forms of torture, including waterboarding." The office also provided advice to the Department of Justice on "enhanced interrogation" methods, such as extended sleep deprivation and waterboarding, deeming them medically acceptable, the report says.

The task force acknowledges that the DoD has taken steps to improve the treatment of detainees but still called for an investigation into the medical practices in U.S. detention facilities and the release of the findings of a review of CIA practices that was done by the U.S. Senate intelligence committee.

It also urged professional organizations to be stricter about spelling out ethical and professional standards as they pertain to interrogation and detention of detainees and to discipline doctors who violate those standards.