The presence of psychiatrists and psychologists during interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay naval base has raised ethics questions among US doctors, who demand respect for the Hippocratic oath.
The American Medical Association (AMA), which represents physicians in the United States, has asked its ethics committee to look at the matter and to "review the issue of physician participation in the interrogation of prisoners and detainees and to clearly delineate the boundaries of ethical practice".
An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine said that physicians and experts in behavioural sciences violated ethics by sitting in on interrogations at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where about 500 prisoners have been held without charges for more than two years.
The authors, Gregg Bloche and Jonathan Marks, said that since 2002, psychiatrists and psychologists had been involved in interrogations involving stress coupled with a rewards system to extract information from recalcitrant prisoners.
They said that medical files of the detainees at Guantanamo had been systematically used by interrogators to exploit their vulnerabilities, in violation of laws protecting medical privacy.
Bloche and Marks, both lawyers, said the US government pressured the military base to find novel interrogation tactics in 2002, because of a dearth of information obtained from Guantanamo prisoners in 2002.
About 500 prisoners have been
held for two years at the base
On 19 October, a delegation of representatives of several US professional associations of physicians and paramedics went to Guantanamo to interview US military leaders.
"This trip gave me an opportunity to ask questions and observe a brief snapshot of the Guantanamo facility first-hand," said Ronald Levant, American Psychological Association president.
A July report released by the American Psychological Association presidential task force on psychological ethics and national security said, "Psychologists can ethically serve in consultative roles to interrogation or information-gathering processes for national security-related purposes, but must do so within the boundaries of a strict set of ethical considerations.
"Psychologists have an ethical obligation to be alert to and report any acts of torture or cruel or inhumane treatment to appropriate authorities."
"Psychologists can ethically serve in consultative roles to interrogation ... but must do so within the boundaries of a strict set of ethical considerations"
American Psychological Association
John McIntyre, a top official with the American Psychiatric Association, said, "Physicians' Hippocratic training and our profound ethical obligations bar participating in any form of cruel and degrading treatment."
"The American Psychiatric Association is firmly committed to using our medical expertise to help treat and heal those in our care. It is vital for physicians to have clear guidelines with respect to interrogation from the AMA, the nation's leading authority on the ethics of medical practice."