A congressional delegation went on a tour of the U.S. detainee center at Guantanamo Bay last weekend. The visit coincided with a new report detailing how military doctors at the facility assisted interrogators in making their interrogations more effective. 

The assignment?  Helping to pinpoint the detainees' personal weaknesses. One former interrogator told The New York Times, “Their purpose was to help us break them.”  In response, a Pentagon spokesman said the psychiatrists did not breach any ethical codes because they were not acting as doctors, but instead as behavioral scientists.

Yet even in the tropics or at the least reputable of Caribbean medical colleges, you do not need to be Hippocrates himself to think that there might be something unethical about doctors aiding in interrogations. 

Dr. Spencer Eth, Chairman of the Ethics Committee at the American Psychiatric Association and also a professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College, joined Countdown host Keith Olbermann to discuss the ethical edge.

KEITH OLBERMANN, 'COUNTDOWN' HOST: Is acting as a doctor something that a military psychiatrist could turn on and off, upholding the Hippocratic oath of “First do no harm” one moment, and the next, leaking to interrogators the best way to increase the distress of particular detainees?

DR. SPENCER ETH, ETHICS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN OF AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION:  As your question suggests, if a military psychiatrist is acting as a physician, then he or she is bound by our principles of medical ethics, principles that have been in force for a very long time and are based on a tradition that hearkens back to the ancient Greeks and Hippocrates. Our civilization has been through many, many wars, and we know that medical ethics apply to physicians who are in the military, as well as to physicians in civilian life.

OLBERMANN: The authors of The New England Journal of Medicine interviewed doctors who basically eliminated whatever gray area there might seem to be.  They say that they actually helped devise and supervise the interrogation regimen at Gitmo.  They had an explicit goal, which was to increase fear and distress among the detainees.  What are the ethics there?

ETH: It would be very difficult to defend the physician who seeks to increase distress, to increase pain, to increase fear and anxiety in a person.  That is outside of the role of being a physician.  In the same way that physicians are bard from participating in lethal-in legal executions in a prison setting, even if that is a death-sentence prisoner, a physician can‘t participate in that.  It is outside of the bounds of medical ethics.

OLBERMANN: These doctors, in particular, the ones in the military, the ones who are working in some way at or in connection to Gitmo, what are their professional risks, at this point?  I mean, obviously, the military wouldn't or may not have a problem with any of the things that they are reported to have been doing.  But what happens if these doctors later go out and either resume or start civilian practice?

ETH: If they are psychiatrists and members of the American Psychiatric Association-and the majority of American psychiatrists are, over 36,000 — then we have an enforcement mechanism to investigate and adjudicate complaints of ethics.  And military psychiatrists who would be who might be accused of unethical behavior would then have to answer to those charges.

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