Prehospital and Disaster Medicine

Special Report

Hunger Strikers: Ethical and Legal Dimensions of Medical Complicity in Torture at Guantanamo Bay

Sarah M. Doughertya1 c1, Jennifer Leaninga1a2a3, P. Gregg Greenougha2a4a5 and Frederick M. Burkle Jr.a4a6

a1 FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts USA

a2 Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts USA

a3 Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

a4 Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts USA

a5 Division of International Health and Humanitarian Programs, Department of Emergency Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts USA

a6 Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC USA


Physicians and other licensed health professionals are involved in force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO), Cuba, the detention center established to hold individuals captured and suspected of being terrorists in the wake of September 11, 2001. The force-feeding of competent hunger strikers violates medical ethics and constitutes medical complicity in torture. Given the failure of civilian and military law to end the practice, the medical profession must exert policy and regulatory pressure to bring the policy and operations of the US Department of Defense into compliance with established ethical standards. Physicians, other health professionals, and organized medicine must appeal to civilian state oversight bodies and federal regulators of medical science to revoke the licenses of health professionals who have committed prisoner abuses at GTMO.

SM Dougherty, J Leaning, PG Greenough, FM Burkle Jr. Hunger strikers: ethical and legal dimensions of medical complicity in torture at Guantanamo Bay. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2013;28(6):1-9 .

(Received July 26 2013)

(Revised August 09 2013)

(Accepted August 12 2013)

(Online publication September 30 2013)


  • dual loyalty;
  • hunger strike;
  • medical ethics;
  • military medicine;
  • prisoner


  • AMA:American Medical Association;
  • BOP:US Federal Bureau of Prisons;
  • DoD:Department of Defense;
  • EMT:Emergency Medical Technician;
  • GTMO:Guantanamo Bay detention camp;
  • SOP:standard operating procedure;
  • WMA:World Medical Association;
  • UCMJ:Uniform Code of Military Justice


c1 Correspondence: Sarah M. Dougherty, JD, MPH FXB Center for Health and Human Rights Harvard School of Public Health 651 Huntington Ave, 7th Floor Boston, MA 02115 USA E-mail


  Conflicts of interest: none