Airmen provide exams before, after interrogations

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jason Tudor
  • Air Force Print News
Iraqi detainees at the prison here receive medical examinations before and after interrogation thanks to an independent group of Air Force medics.

The detainee health care team monitors and maintains the health of about 2,000 detainees who are “actively undergoing interrogation,” said Major Carol, the leader of the team here. Her last name, and other’s, are withheld for security reasons. “It’s a unique mission. Our role is to provide independent care for the detainees.”

According to the staff, that independence is key. To screen the detainees, the team is given a schedule each day. Their patients are usually seen in groups in a well-guarded holding facility. The screening room is small and there is always a translator on hand, said Captain Paul, a physician’s assistant assigned to the duty.

Every patient is given a basic exam -- eyes, ears, nose and throat -- as well as a litany of other tests, Captain Paul said.

Exams can take a few minutes or longer, the major said. The screening team provides exams for about 20 to 25 detainees each day.

"Once a detainee passes the exam, he can be interrogated," Major Carol said. "Although the health care team is not present for the interrogation, they are available in case a detainee claims they are ill.

“We’re not involved in the interrogation process," the major said. "We have no part in that. We simply say if a detainee is a ‘go’ or a ‘no go’ for interrogation."

The team cares for detainees throughout the interrogation phase done at the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center inside Abu Ghraib. While Abu Ghraib serves as a prison for Iraqi criminals, those the United States deals with are detainees, not prisoners.

Detainees here are held because they serve some value to military intelligence, having been caught committing acts of violence against coalition forces or civilians, Abu Ghraib officials said.

Detainees still receive a level of doctor-patient confidentiality, Major Carol said. If more extensive care is needed, the Army medics handle it.

One of the challenges the team faces is providing care properly, Captain Paul said.

“They are 100 years behind here medically,” he said. “A 40-year-old is going to look like a 60-year-old.”

Along with Major Carol and Captain Paul, Senior Airman Estaban, a medical technician, and an independent medical technician are on hand to ensure a detainee’s health during interrogations.

“We were brought in here to ensure that process is sound,” Major Carol said.

To ensure that, diagnoses are made on the conservative side, Captain Paul said.

“If a guy comes in and says he got hit, but it doesn’t look like he got hit, we’re still going to check it out,” he said.

There is also the issue of directly dealing with the detainees. Major Carol, a family practice specialist, said she still gets Iraqis who are offended a woman is caring for them. Captain Paul said inmates will occasionally give him “the eye.” Sometimes, they will even test the medics.

“One detainee might say, ‘I have a chest pain,’ and be 21 years old. They’ll lie to get out of the interrogation,” he said.

Captain Paul said on some days, the care he provides the detainees is more difficult to give.

“You could have a guy who just shot six Marines and had the sniffles,” he said. “You just have to give him something and move on.”

“I have to remember that I am a professional,” Airman Estaban said. “When it gets difficult, I take a break and read a surfing magazine. That helps.”

Ensuring that the mission the Air Force providers do is separate and distinct -- fair interrogation process -- is important to Airman Estaban. His four-month rotation as an expeditionary medical technician has been “different.”

“It’s a lot more than I expected,” he said. “We’re here to oversee things medically according to the Geneva Convention, and that’s important.”