Intended for healthcare professionals


Medical professionalism and abuse of detainees in the war on terror

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 29 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2947
  1. Sarah L Kimball, resident physician1,
  2. Stephen Soldz, director2
  1. 1Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA 02139, USA
  2. 2Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, Brookline, MA, USA
  1. sarahlynnkimball{at}

Time for doctors to stand up our professional ethics

“Where were the doctors?” asked physician and bioethicist Steven Miles after the Abu Ghraib photographs became public.1 A recent task force report from the Institute of Medicine as a Profession (IMAP)/Open Society Foundations provides a disturbing answer.2

The report discloses that, among other unethical roles, doctors in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and CIA secret prisons were monitoring oxygen saturations during waterboarding, watching for edema in detainees forced to stand in stress positions, and helping increase psychological distress by sharing prisoners’ individual health information with interrogators. Despite criticism, the Department of Defense and the CIA have left in place many protocols that allow, even encourage, this degradation of professional ethics. Given the evidence of the involvement of health professionals in “enhanced” interrogations, we believe that health professionals, international medical societies, and licensing boards should actively oppose this involvement in the abuse of prisoners.

In 2009, President Obama used his executive authority to end the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. But, owing to classification, we still do not fully know the current standards for the involvement of …

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