Washington: US Department of Defence doctors and psychologists, whose duty was to care for inmates at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, concealed evidence of intentional harm and torture, said a study on Tuesday.
The findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal PloS Medicine, come in the wake of a host of secret US documents released by WikiLeaks, shedding light on conditions in the US military prison in Cuba.
Co-authored by a retired Army brigadier general and an expert with Physicians for Human Rights, the study is based on the medical records and legal files of nine inmates at the US "war on terror" prison.
The authors call into question whether military doctors, who like their civilian colleagues generally adhere to the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, should have done more when confronted with potential of abuse or torture.
The Department of Defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Military doctors noted the sudden onset of post-traumatic stress symptoms in some inmates who had no history of mental problems, heard stories of rape and documented bone fractures, contusions and lacerations, but they did not question the cause, the study said.
"The medical doctors and mental health personnel who treated the detainees . . . failed to inquire and/or document causes of the physical injuries and psychological symptoms they observed," it said.
In one case, a clinician with the Defence Department`s Behavioural Health Service noted a detainee`s suicidal thoughts, memory lapses and nightmares, and prescribed antidepressants.
"(You) . . . need to relax when the guards are being more aggressive," the inmate was told, according to medical records cited by the study.
Reports of alleged complicity by CIA doctors and psychologists and DoD behavioural consultants, described by the US government as "non-clinical" experts who were present during the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, have already come to light.
But according to lead author Vincent Iacopino, this study focuses on Defence Department medical personnel — doctors and psychologists — who directly cared for Guantanamo inmates and whose role has been largely obscured.
"There has been no information to date on the role of those health professionals in turning a blind eye, as the paper has indicated, until this time," Iacopino said.
The study does not name the clinicians involved. Iacopino said the doctors` names had been redacted from the documents they consulted, but would be available to those with classified access.
The team of non-governmental medical experts that reviewed the files also admitted facing obstacles in reporting the full extent of what happened.
"Nearly all" of the doctor visits "were initiated after suicide attempts and/or detainee hunger strikes," and notes taken by military doctors "indicate that their visits were unwelcome and the detainees often refused to co-operate," said the study.
Some medical records were heavily edited by military censors, and since the study is limited to nine cases, it is difficult to extrapolate the findings or allege that similar treatment happened to other detainees.
"Nevertheless, these findings reveal new information about the potential extent of medical complicity in US torture practices, and they highlight the need for a thorough and impartial investigation of all the available information, including relevant classified information," the study said.
"The commission and/or concealment of acts of torture should never be justified by any health professionals — clinical, non-clinical, military, or non-military."