Medical Professionals Leave Guantanamo With New Impressions
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2005 Some public- and private-sector medical professionals were able to gain a much better understanding of the role of medical personnel during an Oct. 19 visit to observe detainee operations at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Defense Department's senior medical official said here Oct. 26.
The group's feedback and observations will be used to update departmental policy guidance related to the handling of detainees captured in the global war against terrorism, Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said in an interview with American Forces Press Service.
After their daytrip to Guantanamo, the group returned to Washington and met with Winkenwerder and the surgeons general of the services that evening at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., for a discussion of their observations and opinions. Winkenwerder couldn't make the trip himself due to previous official commitments.
He said the returned visitors indicated that what they saw and heard at Guantanamo regarding U.S. military efforts to provide proper and humane care to detainees was useful, and offered a better basis for assessing U.S. efforts.
In order to encourage open exchange of ideas, ground rules for the Andrews discussion required that trip participants maintain confidentiality concerning comments made, Winkenwerder said.
Defense officials are working to finalize new and more detailed detainee-treatment policy guidance. Winkenwerder said the new policy will update a policy memorandum issued June 3, which said military medical personnel tending to detainees under the control of the U.S. military are expected to act according to established laws and medical ethics and are required to report observed or suspected inhumane treatment.
Some in the American medical community have criticized some aspects of military medicine's involvement with detainee operations, specifically allegations that medical personnel didn't report witnessed incidents of detainee abuse. An in-depth report based on a five-month review of U.S. medical treatment of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq and at Guantanamo answered those critics, Winkenwerder said.
DoD released the report July 8. In it, Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Kevin Kiley said the review determined that the majority of military medical people never witnessed signs that detainees had been abused and that most medical practitioners who'd seen such abuse had reported it.
"That report spoke for itself," Winkenwerder said. The Kiley report incorporated more than 1,000 sworn statements from U.S. military members who were asked if they'd witnessed any acts of detainee abuse, he said.
"Our guidance is extremely clear: that in all cases, in all situations, detainees under U.S. custody should be treated humanely and with respect, and should receive appropriate health care," Winkenwerder said. "And that's, in fact, the way people have been treated."