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WASHINGTON — Military health officials who force-feed hunger strikers or participate in interrogations in limited roles do not violate their promise to provide “humane” treatment to detainees, according to new defense guidelines released Monday.

William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the new Defense Department document does not represent policy changes but rather a clarification of how military personnel should conduct themselves.

“This is reaffirming the high ethical principles of care and treatment for detainees,” he said. “All of our health care personnel have the duty to comply with the law … and report known or suspected violations of the law.”

Medical personnel at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been using feeding tubes and restraint chairs on prisoners there conducting hunger strikes.

Winkenwerder defended that practice, saying the move was “a life-saving procedure” in the best interests of the protesters.

The policy specifies that such decisions “must be based on a medical determination that immediate treatment or intervention is necessary to prevent death or serious harm.” It’s the same policy for detainees who attempt to commit suicide.

Also in the guidelines, behavior health consultants may observe interrogations and provide general advice on how to extract information — using “cultural and ethnic characteristics of the subjects” — but cannot provide specific physical or mental health information for questioners to use as leverage.

Winkenwerder said previous news reports had distorted the consultants’ involvement in previous interrogations, but he could not give specifics on what details had been inaccurate.

Under current rules, the behavior consultants are designed to be treated separately from other medical personnel, and discouraged from serving as both a physician and interrogation psychologist at the same detention facility within a three-year period.

But existing policies do allow Winkenwerder to approve such a move if qualified psychologists aren’t available.

The guidelines also specify that Red Cross physicians shall be given access to detainees’ medical records, and outline procedures for reporting human rights violations to defense officials.

A report and review of the medical personnel guidelines was mandated by Congress as part of the 2006 defense budget approval.

The guidelines are part of a much broader review of detainee treatment which includes revisions to the Army Field Manual and rules of interrogations. Defense and Senate officials for months have been sparring over whether those documents go far enough to protect prisoners’ rights.

The guidelines, in Defense Department instruction 2310.08, are available at www.dtic.mil/whs/directives.

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