The Defense Department’s top health affairs official this week instructed all medical personnel who treat detainees in U.S. custody to report any suspected inhumane treatment and to protect their patients as they would U.S. soldiers, a new set of guidelines after allegations of medic participation in abuse.
William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, also said yesterday that allegations of medical personnel being involved in or failing to report detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are being examined by the Army’s surgeon general. Winkenwerder said cases of medics knowing about abuse have surfaced, but he declined to discuss specifics of Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley’s inquiry and said it is not a criminal investigation.
In Kiley’s ongoing “assessment” of how medical personnel are involved, a “very small number of reports of observation of some abuse were seen thus far,” Winkenwerder said. He said Kiley, who is also commander of the Army’s Medical Command at Fort Sam Houston, Tex., has collected 1,000 sworn statements. Human rights groups have alleged that military doctors and nurses were at least complicit in unethical and possibly illegal interrogation plans, and the Army’s inquiries into abuse have revealed that some medical workers knew about abuse but did not report it.
A spokesman for the Army’s Medical Command did not return calls late yesterday.
Winkenwerder said yesterday that the new guidelines are intended to fill gaps identified in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and to ensure that U.S. medical personnel treat detainees with “professional judgments and standards similar to those that would be applied to personnel of the U.S. Armed Forces.” He said the guidelines “reaffirm” long-standing principles and create one document to erase confusion.
“Our current policies and procedures are good . . . but if you look at the documents, they don’t provide the level of specificity that is needed,” Winkenwerder said, calling the new memo “an improvement over earlier guidance.”
Chief among Winkenwerder’s guidelines are that medical personnel have a duty to protect the physical and mental health of detainees, and that they are responsible for upholding humane treatment. He also outlines the careful monitoring of medical records, the duty to report possible abuse by interrogators or guards when they identify suspicious circumstances, and he calls on the armed services to institute specific training for those who will work with detainee populations.
Winkenwerder also warns workers who have a “provider-patient” relationship with a detainee from being involved in or influenced by interrogations.
Leonard Rubenstein of Physicians for Human Rights said he believes the new policy creates loopholes that could allow medical personnel to participate in unethical treatment of detainees.