Thursday, August 19, 2004

Uglier and Uglier 

Doctors at Abu Ghraib didn't just cover up torture of prisoners, they helped design it. The Lancet is a British medical journal which does not to my knowledge do anything political. This is about medical ethics--you know, that subject on which George W. Bush is such an expert when the subject is stem cell research:

(via Globe & Mail (tedious registration, will try to find better link)
Some U.S. military doctors in Iraq and Afghanistan betrayed their duty to patients by participating in and covering up the abuse of prisoners, a report in the British journal Lancet argues.

Written by Dr. Steven Miles, a bioethicist at a U.S. university, the article calls for an urgent investigation to assess the extent to which U.S. military doctors, nurses and medics abandoned the “moral obligations” of their profession.

Published Thursday, the same day reports emerged that an U.S. army inquiry will lay blame on commanders at Abu Ghraib for creating conditions that allowed abuses to occur at the jail, the article says the testimony which has emerged paints a picture of medical professionals allowing, assisting and participating in the abuse of prisoners.

They are accused of falsifying death certificates, tampering with bodies and, in at least one case, reviving someone beaten unconscious and then leaving him again to the mercy of his interrogators. In at least two cases, Dr. Miles notes, military officials released innocuous information explaining away prisoner deaths, only to later admit that they had died because of mistreatment.

At no point does it seem that the medical people working for the U.S. military blew the whistle, he writes critically. There is no official record of them contradicting faulty death reports issued by the military or informing on their colleagues.

“The detaining power's health personnel are the first and often the last line of defence against human rights abuses. Their failure to assume that role emphasizes to the prisoner how utterly beyond humane appeal they are,” he said.

In his harsh submission to Lancet, Dr. Miles criticizes the inaction of medical staff who did not report abuses but also charges that, in a far worse transgression, “the [military] medical system collaborated with designing and implementing psychologically and physically coercive interrogations.”

“The role of military medicine in these abuses merits special attention because of the moral obligations of medical professionals with regard to torture and because of horror at health professionals who are silently or actively complicit with torture,” he writes.
Note the phrase "medical people working for the US military." That is not the same as "military doctors." Is there another contractor scandal even I haven't heard about yet? (This wouldn't surprise me, the use of contract doctors by the US military goes back at least to the Civil War, and they were hated then too.)

More on this, as they say, as it develops. I hope Dr. Miles has a safe place to sleep tonight.

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