The Role of Health Professionals in Detainee Interrogation

While these NGOs protested what they deemed the illegal trial of a minor, Porterfield, groups of medical associations and academics highlighted a different aspect of the case, a feature that, in fact, by that time had become a constant source of complaint among the medical community. Plain and simple, Jawad's testimony showed that doctors had participated in abuse (in this case psychological) that was ethically questionable and potentially illegal. In the words of Steven H. Miles, MD, a bioethics expert and the author of the book Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror:

Within the primary obligations to promote a person's well-being, distinctions are possible to allow behavioral scientists, psychologists, or psychiatrists to work with forensic interviews. It is one thing for such clinicians to train an interrogator in rapport-building skill and cross-cultural communication. It is quite another to use psychological, medical, and cultural information (especially when obtained in a clinical encounter) to degrade, frighten, or inflict physical distress on a person in order to coerce information from that person.

For Porterfield and the people who knew about the classified details of Jawad's treatment or of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used on the high-value detainees, Duane-Gottfried was an ideal proposal to prevent a similar incident from recurring.

"The Duane-Gottfried bill reaffirms the basic ideology of doctors; it gives teeth to the enforcement of medical ethics," said Dr. Allen Keller, Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. "I believe this is one of the central moral issues of physicians and of our society."

In 2007, the year Khalid Sheik Mohammed's Combatant Review Tribunal was held in Guantanamo, a group of doctors had approached Assembly Member Gottfried with what he thought was an ingenious idea: They could use state-licensing power as a lever to stop the involvement of health professionals in interrogations and torture. Since the Department of Defense required physicians to have a state license, then the state should have the ability to sanction the physicians it licensed. The battle, then, wouldn't have to be fought within medical groups or Congress, but rather at state legislatures.

In 2009, around the time Jawad's lawyers filed for a writ of Habeas corpus in the name of their client, Gottfried decided to move forward with the bill. Despite what at the time seemed like a promising future, the legislation failed to pass and hasn't even been discussed in the House's floor, even though it has been proposed in each of the last three years.

"To some extent, the issue is put in very blunt terms, 'Whose side are you on? The terrorists' or Gottfried's?" Gottfried said last winter, a couple of months before the legislation officially died once again.

Mohammed Jawad was captured by Afghan security forces in a crowded Kabul bazaar on December 17, 2002. He was picked up, along with several other individuals who were later released, after a grenade thrown inside a car nearly killed two American Special Forces soldiers and their Afghan translator. In the local police station, Jawad was accused of throwing the grenade and coerced into confessing, according to David Frakt, a member of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps who was assigned to lead Jawad's defense in 2008.

Jawad at first denied participating in the attack, but the police threatened to kill him or his family if he did not accept the charges against him, Frakt said. The threats, later accepted as a form of torture under the Military Commission Rule of Evidence , were issued in front of high-government Afghan officials whose names were redacted from court documents. Jawad, at the time nearly illiterate and apparently under the effect of some kind of drug, signed with his fingerprint a confession written in Dari -- a language he does not speak -- in which he took full responsibility for the assault and expressed pride about it, stating that he would have done it again if he had the chance.

At around 10 p.m., U.S. security personnel took Jawad into custody and led him to Forward Operating Base 195, also known as the Kabul Military Academy. There, he was strip-searched and photographed naked. Once again, after denying having anything to do with the grenade attack, Jawad was coerced into confessing that he played a leading role, according to court documents . His account in front of U.S. interrogators, however, was fairly different from the one he had given to the Afghan police. He told them he had been drugged and initially denied having any involvement in the incident (he later confessed, according to military interrogators , and, allegedly, his confession was recorded in a missing videotape, which was never found despite a "service-wide inquiry" from a government prosecutor).

Jawad was transferred to the Bagram Theater Internment Facility on December 18, just a couple of weeks after severe beatings caused the death of two detainees in the prison. Records from interrogators and files that have been partially declassified state that, while he was there, he was hooded, placed in stress positions, thrown down a flight of stairs, kneed, kicked, sleep-deprived and threatened with being handed over to the Taliban. Military interrogators, who by that time had realized Jawad was a juvenile (he does not know when he was born; his age at the time of capture ranges from 15-17, depending on the account), played on his fears and on his constant cries for his mother to secure more statements.

He was transferred to the now decade-old prison in a military flight on February 6, 2003. Following his arrival, he received the traditional orange jumpsuit now associated with the detention center. The next day, he was interrogated by the FBI and placed in isolation for 30 days. The month-long seclusion, during which his only human contact was provided by several groups of interrogators, was designed to "wear down" new detainees, according to the standard operating procedures of Camp Delta.

As a whole, the Bagram and Guantanamo experiences prompted a deep feeling of mistrust in authorities, according to Dr. Katherine Porterfield.

"I've worked with survivors of torture from countries all around the world, but I had never faced a patient who initially doubted who I was, and who thought that I, as a doctor, might be there to harm him," she said.

His attorneys David Frakt and Eric Montalvo, two JAG officers who were assigned to his case, faced a similar reaction when they first met him. "He couldn't believe I was there to actually help him. He reasoned that since I was with the government then my role was to interrogate him or that it was all fake," Montalvo said.

Jawad's distrust was apparent even the day when Montalvo informed him that the government had withdrawn their case after a judge declared that most of the evidence supplied by the prosecution had been obtained through torture. Through the gates of Camp Iguana, Montalvo told his client that he was soon going to be released. Initially, Jawad's reaction wasn't the ultimate bliss that one would expect of someone who had now lived almost a third of his life devoid of freedom.

"In a way he had a measured response to some extent because he had been told many, many things that hadn't happened," Montalvo surmised. "At the same time he was happy that we were having that conversation. In the end, the sheer moment of joy was when he met me later in Kabul. We saw each other and it was his first day as a free man. There, he got down and kissed the ground."

After nearly seven years in captivity, Jawad returned to Afghanistan in August 2009, where he met President Hamid Karzai, who promised him a house in a PR stunt during a reelection campaign. The pledge was never fulfilled and life has been difficult for Jawad since he returned, according to Montalvo, who still calls him from time to time.

"He clearly had some psycho-social issues and he was basically deprived of his adolescent years, so he was sort of the boy in the bubble who went back to a society that is fairly harsh," Montalvo said. "He has no income and no support and has all these accusations against him still hanging on his back, so, how would you feel in that situation? It didn't go well for him."

"At the same time, he's alive and healthy and not in trouble, so, you know, it depends on what expectations you have."

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Santiago Wills is a journalist basted in New York City. His work has also appeared in Salon and several South American magazines.

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