updated 9/7/2007 10:46:40 AM ET 2007-09-07T14:46:40

The U.S. medical establishment appears to have turned a blind eye to the abuse of military medicine at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, doctors from around the world said in a letter published Friday in a prestigious British medical journal.

Health care workers in the U.S. military seem to have put their loyalty to the state above their duty to care for patients — and American regulatory bodies have done nothing to remedy the situation, said the letter that appeared in The Lancet.

It was signed by some 260 people from 16 countries, nearly all of whom are doctors.

The letter compared the ongoing role of U.S. doctors working at Guantanamo, who have been accused of ignoring torture, to the South African doctors involved in the case of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died while being detained by security police.

“The attitude of the U.S. medical establishment appears to be one of ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,”’ the letter charged.

The American Medical Association did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment left at their press office Thursday evening.

This is not the first time medical journals such as The Lancet have been used as a platform to criticize the doctors at Guantanamo, where prisoners suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban are held.

Guantanamo’s reputation has been tarnished by hunger strikes and suicides. Detainees began refusing food at the prison in August 2005, although the number of prisoners on hunger strike has fluctuated. The forced feeding of detainees, who are strapped into restraint chairs and fed through tubes reaching down their throats, has been particularly controversial.

The letter’s authors argued in The Lancet last year that the forced feeding was “degrading and unethical.” Commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July called on doctors not to participate in the practice.

Military officials have described the hunger striking as a “voluntary fast” intended to draw international sympathy, and have praised the efforts of medical staff to keep the detainees alive as heroic.

Among the co-authors of the recent letter is Dr. William Hopkins, a psychiatrist with the London-based Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture who also was involved with the 2006 letter. Those involved in the recent letter include people from Britain, the U.S. and South Africa.

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