Ethics: How Could Doctors Help With Harsh CIA Interrogations, 'Rectal Feeding'?

(Source: NPR)
(Source: NPR)

It was a stomach-turning morning read. The Boston Globe, reporting on the new Senate report on harsh CIA interrogations, writes: "With the approval of the CIA’s medical staff, some CIA prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary 'rectal feeding' or 'rectal hydration' — a technique that the CIA’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert 'total control over the detainee.'"

The question immediately arises: How could medical professionals be involved in this? Doesn't it violate the Hippocratic oath and other tenets of medical ethics?

Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, a Cambridge Health Alliance psychiatrist who's affiliated with Harvard Medical School's new Center for Bioethics, has published research papers on relevant ethics awareness among medical students and, this summer, among psychology grad students.

"These actions fly in the face of every ethical standard physicians are held to."

Dr. J. Wesley Boyd

He discusses the ethical side of doctors' and psychologists' involvement in harsh CIA interrogations on Radio Boston today, and points out that while the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association have clearly banned participation in harsh interrogations, the American Psychological Association has not been so definitive.

Some excerpts from what he tells co-host Lisa Mullins:

[Referring to the ethics-awareness study on medical students:]"We had, with that study, objective evidence that medical students were not being taught about any of these issues. The problem with that is that if you end up in military service as a physician, in all likelihood you have no prior instruction about how you should comport yourself if what you're being asked to do butts up against international codes of conduct and morality more generally."

"In the early days after 9/11, physicians were being asked to, and expected to, participate in torture...In some instances, they would advise interrogators about the psychological weaknesses of a person. They would advise interrogators about whether or not the person could take a little more punishment or maybe they're up against death and we need to stop right here.

"They falsified reports about injuries and in one instance falsified a death certificate in which someone died while being interrogated. These actions fly in the face of every ethical standard physicians are held to."

[Q: Is there any reason why a psychologist or medical doctor should be present at an interrogation, assuming it's going to involve brutal tactics? Could they stop things before they get worse, or death?]

"That’s a good question. I think that argument can be made, that at least if you have a physician there, they're going to be able to tell the interrogators: 'Stop! Enough!' But even though that argument can be made, I completely and fully disagree with it, and think physician have no place in those settings."

Listen to the full interview today between 3 and 4, or find the audio at Radio Boston after 5 p.m.


Headshot of Carey Goldberg

Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



More from WBUR

Listen Live