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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Professors Say Physicians and Lawyers Collaborated to Enable CIA Torture

The CIA’s torture of prisoners at “black sites” was enabled by a dangerous collaboration between physicians and lawyers that led them to overcome professional ethics and “rationalize” acts of violence and sexual abuse, two Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) medical ethicists argue.

Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. George Annas and Dr. Sondra Crosby say the role of medical professionals in torturing prisoners was enabled by CIA and U.S. Justice Department attorneys, who assured the physicians that they would not be held legally responsible for violating laws against torture, as long as they used techniques approved in legal memos crafted by the Justice Department to justify their actions. Lawyers, meanwhile, agreed to provide immunity assurances only if the physicians assured them that they would be present to monitor the torture.

But Dr. Annas and Dr. Crosby argue that torture is always wrong, and that “confining torture to legally defined methods” is impossible. In reality, they say, physicians and lawyers “consistently gave themselves permission to do whatever they agreed among themselves was important to do (to ‘save lives’).” That potentially deadly dynamic has also played out in military prisons, including Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and even in some U.S. prisons, they say.

“Beyond the elimination of black sites, attorneys will have to stand with physicians who want to maintain their ethics, . . . support health professionals in their refusals to torture, and refuse to give CIA agents and contractors prospective legal immunity for violating human rights laws,” Dr. Annas and Dr. Crosby write.

To read more, go to:…professors-say/