In January I posted an article by the new President of the American Psychiatric Association reporting on his trip to Guantanamo. In his article, President Pedro Ruiz commented favorably upon the meals served to detainees, but not upon the absence of fundamental human rights:
On the day of our visit, we had a lunch that consisted of pasta and chicken, a salad, an orange, two toasted bread portions, two glasses of grapefruit juice, a diet soda, a bottle of water, and two pieces of baklava. As we were having our lunch, we were told that this was the lunch that all detainees at GTMO had that day.
As you can see, President Ruiz here relays official Defense Department propaganda with nary a critical thought.
President Ruiz’s conclusion was a slap in the face to all those concerned about the various abuses that health professionals, as consultants to interrogations and in other roles (as force-feeders, prescribers of non-therapeutic drugs, and other abusive roles):
In my opinion, the health care personnel—psychiatrists, other physicians, nurses, psychologists, and others—stationed at GTMO are doing an outstanding job under difficult and trying circumstances for everyone at GTMO. This column was written with this message in mind.
As is true in every tour of Guantanamo, the visitors did not get an opportunity to talk to any of the detainees. In a sense those who write of the treatment there are even more naive than those starry-eyed leftists who went to Stalinist Soviet Union and returned with tales of the workers’ paradise. At least the latter had an opportunity to talk to Russians, though, of course, these talks were carefully stage-managed and monitored. Those who visit Guantanamo and report of the good conditions there have no excuse, especially after all that is publicly known about the repeated lies and distortions of this administration.
President Ruiz’s article was also an implicit slap at the previous President Steven Sharfstein, under whose leadership the Psychiatric association took a strong moral stand against direct psychiatric participation in interrogations. [By the way, two officials from the American Psychological Association, President Gerald Koocher and Ethic Director Stephen Behnke, were along on this Guantanamo junket.]
The new issue of the American Psychiatric Association’s Psychiatric News has a response to President Ruize by James L. Fleming, M.D.
Guantanamo Visit Elicits Reaction
The column by APA President Pedro Ruiz, M.D., in the January 17 issue in
which he described his trip to the U.S military base at Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba (GTMO), was disturbing, not so much by what was said but rather by
what wasn’t. His stated intention in writing to the membership about
this highly controversial facility was to highlight the dedication and
outstanding performance under “trying circumstances” of health care
personnel, including psychiatrists, stationed at GTMO. Trying indeed,
certainly for the inmates, but also I’m sure for those same health care
professionals who at times have been required to force-feed inmates on
hunger strikes or for the mental health staff who were required to
participate in interrogations.
Treatment of detainees at GTMO has come under widespread international
condemnation including from U.S. allies such as Great Britain and a wide
range of human-rights organizations including the International
Committee of the Red Cross. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty
International have called for the facility to be closed, and last June
the U.S. Supreme Court determined that President Bush did not have the
authority to set up tribunals either under military law or the Geneva
None of this is mentioned in Dr. Ruiz’s column. Rather he tells us what
the military briefers leading the tour told the delegation: for
instance, that all of the detainees had been “arrested while committing
terrorist acts against the United States.” Really? What about the
detainees who were released after they were determined not to have been
enemy combatants after all? And if the others were already determined to
have engaged in terrorist acts, why the need for military tribunals or
any further due process whatsoever? The detainees who managed to succeed
at suicide last year presumably would have preferred a speedy execution
rather than indefinite detention, and, if numerous reports are to be
believed, inhumane interrogation methods, which include torture. Dr.
Ruiz mentions suicide only along with other “disruptive behaviors”
managed on a special unit that the group toured. He avoids the relevant
and intense political, legal, and ethical controversies surrounding
treatment and incarceration at GTMO.
Dr. Ruiz manages to find space in his column for a detailed description
of the lunch menu on the day of his visit and seems satisfied with being
told during the meal “that this was the same lunch that all detainees at
GTMO had that day.” Ironically, or perhaps conveniently, no mention is
made of those trying to starve themselves to death or those being
forcibly fed by medical staff.
Most remarkable, however, is the absence of any mention of the APA
Assembly’s position statement on the participation of psychiatrists in
interrogations, which was triggered largely by the situation at the
Guantanamo Bay facility. The Assembly determined that it is unethical
for psychiatrists to participate in such procedures, and the AMA
followed suit with a similar statement.
Dr. Ruiz had an opportunity to provide some meaningful follow-up to
these important actions in his column. He still has time to do so before
the end of his term.
Dr. Fleming is president-elect of the Western Missouri Psychiatric Society
This episode makes it clear that victory against torture is never final. Even such a strong position as that taken by the American Psychiatric Association must be constantly defended, lest it be eroded away by those who put access to the powerful above the the suffering of the powerless.
May 23rd, 2007