An independent panel of military, ethics, medical, public health, and legal experts released a report today, “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the ‘War on Terror,'” examining how doctors and psychologists, as well as U.S. military officials and intelligence agencies, were involved in the cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of detainees.

Book cover for, "Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror," shows a man walking away in a blue lit city.

Deborah Popowski, Clinical Instructor at the Human Rights Program and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, co-authored a chapter in the report, “Health Professional Accountability for Acts of Torture Through State Licensing and Discipline,” along with Kate Nicholson, Shuenn (Patrick) Ho, and Pooja Nair.

The chapter begins:

“No health professionals employed by or contracted with military and intelligence agencies have been held accountable for any acts of torture and other forms of mistreatment of post-9/11 detainees, either by those agencies or by civilian disciplinary boards. The costs of non-enforcement are great: non-enforcement undermines professional standards, erodes public trust, and undercuts deterrence of future misconduct. Lack of consistent enforcement also compromises protection of health professionals who face institutional pressure to violate their ethical obligations. By contrast, attention to accountability signals to licensees and those who employ them that the profession and institutions designed to ensure adherence to ethical obligations take violations seriously. Moreover, it empowers health professionals to resist demands by commanders to engage in acts that violate their professional responsibilities and to report abuse when they believe it has occurred.”

In addition to being a contributor, Deborah is also a member of the 19-member task force that brought together a range of perspectives to produce the report. The Institute on Medicine as a Profession along with the Open Society Foundations supported the initiative.

The Human Rights Program has been working for several years on the issue of accountability for health professionals involved in torture. Learn more about our focus on professional misconduct complaints here.

More coverage of the report:


The Guardian