'Do No Harm': Doctors Blast Medical Professionals for Role In CIA Torture Regime

A group of doctors and ethicists has released a searing report (pdf) slamming medical professionals for playing an “essential” role in the CIA’s torture program, thereby violating “the most fundamental duty of the healing professions” and potentially committing crimes against humanity.

Published by Physicians for Human Rights, the analysis comes a week after the release of the partially-redacted executive summary (pdf) of the Senate report on the CIA’s widespread torture program—which includes water-boarding, sleep deprivation, killing by hypothermia, and the act euphemistically referred to as rectal feeding.

“Doctors and psychologists working for the U.S. government engaged in the brutal and systematic torture of detainees,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR senior medical advisor and a co-author of the analysis. “Health professionals who participated in these crimes betrayed the most fundamental duty of the healing professions—to do no harm. They must be held accountable in order to restore trust in our professions and ensure this never happens again.”

Doctors, physicians assistants, and psychologists violated “core ethical principles” of the profession, including the obligation to “protect the lives and health of patients under their care from harm and brutality,” according to the PHR review.

These betrayals included “designing, directing, and profiting from the torture program,” as well as “intentionally inflicting harm on detainees,” the report charges. The medical community also enabled “U.S. Department of Justice Lawyers to create a fiction of ‘safe, legal and effective’ interrogation practices.”

In particular, the report slams psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen (identified in the Senate report respectively under the pseudonyms Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar) for their critical role in “conceptualizing and designing strategies for the direct infliction of a combination of physical and psychological harm on detainees.” The psychologists’ company was paid more than $80 million by the CIA for its services.


As Roy Eidelson and Trudy Bond point out in a recent article, complicity and direct participation in the torture regime of the CIA may extend to the broader medical community, including the American Psychological Association.

Mitchell recently dismissed the torture report as a “load of hooey,” declaring it is “selectively produced in a way to produce outrage in the reader.”

But PHR says the violations by Mitchell and others are serious, potentially constituting violations of the Nuremberg Code, which was established following atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.

The PHR is demanding a federal investigation into the role of medical professionals.

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“The profound betrayal of medical ethics uncovered by the Senate’s investigation is reprehensible and demands nothing less than full accountability,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “The fact that U.S. taxpayers paid $81 million to the two psychologists’ private firm to carry out the CIA’s torture program should shock the moral conscience of all Americans.”

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