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Boston University Professor Sondra Crosby spoke about the ongoing human rights crisis in Guantanamo Bay in a lecture called “Medical Ethics at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center” yesterday at the Humanities and Social Sciences Building.
Crosby, who is an associate professor of medicine, has made eight trips to the United States military base on the Cuban coast, serving as a medical advisor to evaluated prisoners. Using her talk to describe her experience at Guantanamo, Crosby relayed accounts of victims held indefinitely without trial and stories of these individuals enduring systematic torture by military personnel. Such conditions passed under the radar, as doctors monitored the procedures under government authorization. Crosby has served as the director of medical care at the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights, providing her with first-hand experience treating torture victims. She examined over 300 torture victims during her time at the center and she was one of the first doctors allowed to travel to Guantanamo in order to examine captives there. Through the organization Physicians for Human Rights, Crosby authored a report called Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture that details accounts of real-life torture against war prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
Crosby’s talk was hosted through the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, as part of their “The Value of Care” series, and the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life.
According to Crosby, U.S. President Barack Obama admitted that the United States has violated human rights and performed torture on war prisoners, following the Abu Ghraib scandal. From late 2003 to 2004, U.S. military personnel and the Central Intelligence Agency committed human rights violations against war prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq War. Obama admitted to the government’s role in the torture that took place and released top secret memos in 2009.
“He … detailed not only the role of physicians in the enhanced interrogation program, but also provided direct evidence that abuses were systematic — they were authorized and directed by the government,” Crosby said. “These authorized techniques amounted to torture: to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.”
Crosby also said she thought such violations of basic human rights “eroded the integrity of the medical profession.” In one case, Crosby said a 14-year-old boy was arrested in Afghanistan and spent the next seven years detained in Guantanamo without charge, until he was finally released at the age of 21. During his incarceration, the teenager incurred injuries as a result of abuse that required surgery.
When asked about potential long-term consequences of U.S. engagement in torture, Crosby said she feared it would not be easy to resolve the situation.
“This is going to affect us for generations,” Crosby said. “Torture is making the world a less place safe for all of us.”
Crosby also told the story of a 56-year-old Egyptian inmate of 12 years who was given “crazy” amounts of food in exchange for information. The man, who suffers from a severe mental disorder and post-traumatic stress syndrome, is vulnerable to overeating in stress-induced situations and now weighs an excess of 400 pounds and suffers from life-threatening diseases.
Meanwhile, other hunger striking inmates, who protested deplorable conditions, were force-fed while strapped down, Crosby said.
English Ph.D. candidate and graduate student Roberta Wolfson said she was surprised by the practices of force-feeding and overfeeding inmates.
“I never really thought about food being a form of psychological torture, a weapon,” Wolfson said. “It’s a bit unnerving to think about how creative some of the torture techniques are.”
The full extent of such violent and painful tactics would probably be alarming to most students, according to Wolfson.
“I think the average student would be shocked,” Wolfson said.
IHC Director Susan Derwin said she believes it to be the civic responsibility of all Americans to be aware of what is happening at Guantanamo and other sites.
“We’re all citizens of this country, and we’re all deeply implicated by these developments,” Derwin said, “whether we choose to be or not.”
At the end of the presentation, Crosby showed a picture of an iguana at the Guantanamo base that is protected by law and cannot be harassed or disturbed without legal ramifications, highlighting the sad reality that iguanas “get much better treatment than detainees.”