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U S doctors forbid roles in harsh interrogations

Written by: Staff
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CHICAGO, June 12 (Reuters) The American Medical Association voted to refine its ethical guidelines that forbid doctors from participating in torture or ''coercive'' interrogations of prisoners.

The action was prompted by unconfirmed allegations that physicians or psychiatrists played roles in harsh interrogations conducted at the U S prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The 544-member house of delegates, which sets policy for the leading U S physicians group, voted at its annual meeting to approve a seven-page report that outlined a physician's duty ''as healer'' not to take any part in interrogating prisoners.

Other stipulations called for doctors to provide medical care to detainees as they would to any patient -- in strict confidence.

Similarly, doctors are not ethically permitted to participate in executions, or to heal an inmate to make him well enough to be put to death, the AMA said.

''Physicians must not conduct, directly participate in, or monitor an interrogation with an intent to intervene, because this undermines the physician's role as healer,'' one of the report's recommendations said yesterday.

''The development of this new ethical policy removes ambiguity for physicians who must make decisions about their involvement in interrogations,'' the report said. ''This policy builds on previous AMA efforts to assist physicians in the military who encounter such issues.'' ''We have to promote compassion, not coercion, wherever we find it,'' said Dr. Priscilla Ray, chairman of the AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, which wrote the report.

Critics of U S policy toward prisoners captured in the U S-declared war on terror have alleged psychiatrists have helped devise or guide interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation to pry information out of detainees.

Other terrorism suspects have been reported to have been captured and sent for interrogation in ''extraordinary renditions'' in which they are transferred from country to country outside usual extradition procedures.

The AMA's Ray said she visited the facility at Guantanamo twice and commanders assured her coercive techniques were no longer used.

She said physicians or psychiatrists may have participated in harsh interrogations previously, but did not now do so and were allowed to excuse themselves when detainees were questioned.

Ray said interrogation strategies now used focused on building rapport with prisoners, which she described as more effective.

The AMA policy does permit physicians to help develop noncoercive interrogation strategies, the report said.

Ray said the aim of the AMA's report was to avoid the politics of the issue and stick to ethical guidelines.

The recent suicides of three detainees at the facility have heightened calls to close it.

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