Medical examinations of former terrorism suspects held by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found evidence of torture and other abuse that resulted in serious injuries and mental disorders, according to a human rights group.
For the most extensive medical study of former U.S. detainees published so far, Physicians for Human Rights had doctors and mental health professionals examine 11 former prisoners. The group alleges that it found evidence of U.S. torture and war crimes and accuses U.S. military health professionals of allowing the abuse of detainees, denying them medical care and providing confidential medical information to interrogators that they then exploited.
One Iraqi prisoner, identified only as Yasser, reported being subjected to electric shocks three times and being sodomized with a stick. His thumbs bore round scars consistent with shocking, according to the report obtained by The Associated Press. He would not allow a full rectal exam.
Another Iraqi, identified only as Rahman, reported he was humiliated by being forced to wear women's underwear, stripped naked and paraded in front of female guards, and was shown pictures of other naked detainees. The psychological exam found that Rahman suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had sexual problems related to his humiliation, the report said.
Report comes amid Senate probe
The report came as the Senate Armed Services Committee revealed documents showing military lawyers warned the Pentagon that methods it was using post-9/11 violated military, U.S. and international law. Those objections were overruled by the top Pentagon lawyer.
President Bush said in 2004, when the prison abuse was revealed, that it was the work of "a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values." Bush and other U.S. officials have consistently denied that the U.S. tortures its detainees.
Physicians for Human Rights, a Mass.-based health advocacy group, did not identify the 11 former prisoners to protect their privacy. Seven were held in Abu Ghraib between late 2003 and summer of 2004, a period that coincides with the known abuse of prisoners at the hands of some of their American jailers. Four of the prisoners were held at Guantanamo beginning in 2002 for one to almost five years. All 11 were released without criminal charges.
Those examined alleged that they were tortured or abused, including sexually, and described being shocked with electrodes, beaten, shackled, stripped of their clothes, deprived of food and sleep, and spit and urinated on.
The abuse of some prisoners by their American captors is well documented by the government's own reports. Once-secret documents show that the Pentagon and Justice Department allowed, at least for a time, forced nakedness, isolation, sleep deprivation and humiliation at both Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and at Abu Ghraib.
Because the medical examiners did not have access to the 11 patients' medical histories prior to their imprisonment, it was not possible to know whether any of the prisoners' ailments, disabilities and scars pre-dated their confinement. The U.S. military says an al-Qaida training manual instructs members, if captured, to assert they were tortured during interrogation.
Injuries documented by exams
However, doctors and mental health professionals stated they could link the prisoners' claims of abuse while in U.S. detention to injuries documented by X-rays, medical exams and psychological tests.
"The level of the time, thoroughness and rigor of the exams left me personally without question about the credibility of the individuals," said Dr. Allen Keller, one of the doctors who conducted the exams, in an interview with the AP. "The findings on the physical and psychological exams were consistent with what they reported."
All 11 former detainees reported being subjected to:
- Stress positions, including being suspended for hours by the arms or tightly shackled for days.
- Prolonged isolation and hooding or blindfolding, a form of sensory deprivation.
- Extreme heat or cold.
- Threats against themselves, their families or friends from interrogators or guards.
Ten said they were forced to be naked, some for days or weeks. Nine said they were subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation. At least six said they were threatened with military working dogs, often while naked. Four reported being sodomized, subjected to anal probing, or threatened with rape.
The patients underwent intensive, two-day long exams following standards and methods used worldwide to document torture.
"We found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse, often causing lasting suffering," he said.
Keller, who directs the Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, said the treatment the detainees reported were "eerily familiar" to stories from other torture survivors around the world. He said the sexual humiliation of the prisoners was often the most traumatic experience.
Most former detainees are out of reach of Western doctors because they are either in Iraq or have been returned to their home countries from Guantanamo.