In the process of investigating the unreported death of Pakistani detainee Ahmad Tanveer, 43, Nina Bernstein of The New York Times discovered just how difficult it can be to keep track of immigrants detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s massive and decentralized system. Bernstein investigated multiple instances in which a suspected detainee death was not included on government lists, and others in which obvious detainee medical problems were misdiagnosed or ignored.
As Congress and the news media brought new scrutiny to the issue, several detention deaths have highlighted problems with medical care and accountability. In one, a Chinese computer engineer’s extensive cancer and fractured spine went undiagnosed at a Rhode Island jail until shortly before he died, despite his pleas for help. In another, records show a Guinean tailor who suffered a skull fracture in a New Jersey jail was left in isolation without treatment for more than 13 hours.
In the Boston Globe‘s Op-Ed section, Homer Venters and Allen S. Keller say the problem’s scope is vast, with 400,000 immigrants being detained in 2008 and projections even higher for 2009:
Over 90 detainees have died in ICE custody since 2004, but because ICE does not track the types and severity of medical problems among detainees, we are unaware of the much larger number of detainees who needed care and did not receive it.
Venters and Keller, professors at NYU’s school of medicine, call for the Obama administration to reform detainee treatment and say have been a few promising signs of progress.
Sheri Fink of ProPublica cited a leaked Red Cross report stating that medical staff provided detainees in secret CIA prisons with excellent medical care, but also sometimes participated in “‘ill treatment’ such as beatings and waterboarding.” Fink used publicly available information and records to answer questions raised by the report.
Responding to questions from the New York Times, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said his agency had long ago ended the interrogation program and the agency, as directed by the Obama administration, will only use techniques that fall within the Army Field Manual.