Health Professionals & Torture

In 2007, the Human Rights Program joined the movement to end involvement by U.S. military and intelligence health professionals in the torture and cruel treatment of men, women, and children held in national security detention centers.

interrigations_force_feedingsBy using their professional knowledge and skills to facilitate torture, some physicians and psychologists have falsely legitimized the use of abusive interrogation techniques, thus violating core professional ethics by harming those to whom they owed a special duty of care. Health professional roles have included force-feeding of hunger strikers; crafting abusive interrogation and detention tactics; advising interrogators on how to exploit prisoners; calibrating pain during interrogations; and turning a blind eye to evidence of abuse.

As part of a multi-year initiative sponsored by the Skirball Foundation, the Academic Program convened a series of interdisciplinary workshops that explored the pressures operating on health professionals; the role of individual agency and responsibility; gaps and conflicts around relevant laws and ethical norms; and the development of useful interventions. The workshops led to the publication of an edited volume exploring these topics.

On a parallel track, the International Human Rights Clinic pushed for accountability through a multidimensional approach to advocacy, including proposing reforms to state professional misconduct laws, filing ethics complaints before state licensing boards and challenging their failure to adequately investigate and adjudicate these complaints.

In 2010, the Clinic began calling for the investigation and sanction of Ohio-licensee Dr. Larry C. James, former Chief Psychologist of the intelligence command at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

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