Teenager held in Guantanamo denied medical evaluation

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 04 November 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:1066
  1. Jeanne Lenzer
  1. New York

    A US judge has ruled that a Canadian teenager held by US forces at Guantanamo Bay naval station does not have the right to a medical or psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is fit to help with his defence.

    Omar Khadr was captured in Afghanistan in July 2002 in a battle that left a US soldier dead. Mr Khadr, 15 years old at the time, was seriously injured. No charges have been filed against Khadr in the two and a half years that he has been held at Guantanamo Bay.

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    The US Supreme Court has ruled that Guantanamo detainees should have access to US courts, but the ruling has had little effect to date


    John Bates, a US district court judge, denied a petition for an independent medical evaluation, writing that claims that Khadr was in “deteriorating health” and had been tortured were mere “speculation,” because a US doctor who provided testimony on behalf of Khadr based his evaluation on materials from other sources and did not personally examine the teenager. Judge Bates also ruled that Khadr did not have the right to a competency evaluation since no charges had ever been filed against him (

    Khadr's Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, called the ruling “Kafka-esque.” US authorities have refused to recognise Mr Edney as Khadr's attorney, instead assigning two US lawyers.

    The ruling has been denounced by medical and legal experts who say that it violates numerous international agreements and ethical norms including the Geneva Conventions.

    President George Bush, named as a respondent in Khadr's case, has asserted that “enemy combatants” such as those held in Guantanamo Bay do not come under the protection of the Geneva Conventions.

    “This is such circular reasoning,” said Ken Hurwitz, senior associate with Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, an international organisation based in New York involved in litigation regarding the detainees. Mr Hurwitz, who is in Guantanamo Bay this week, told the BMJ that detainees there are in a legal “no man's land”—unprotected by the Geneva Conventions or US law.

    “The judge's reliance on the military medical records to determine that [Khadr] doesn't need an evaluation is very troubling,” said Mr Hurwitz.

    “There's strong reason to be suspicious that not all of the medical military officials are acting dispassionately and in accordance with the Hippocratic oath,” said Mr Hurwitz, who charges that physicians were “passively if not actively” complicit with maltreatment of detainees when they handed over prisoners' medical records to interrogators. “Military rules even provide that wounded or medically injured detainees should be medically cleared for [harsh interrogation].”

    Steven Miles, professor of bioethics at the University of Minnesota, who reported doctors' complicity in torture at Abu Ghraib in the Lancet (2004;364: 725-9) agreed that there was evidence of torture at Guantanamo Bay.

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