Doctors who torture

Torture can’t happen without doctors.

The point of torture is not to kill. As a former CIA lawyer once said, “If a detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”

The point of torture is to inflict pain. And only doctors can determine how to suffocate without drowning, how to beat without doing too much damage, how to torment without killing.

How horrifying to read “Health Provision and Role of Medical Staff” in the recently leaked International Committee of the Red Cross report (PDF) on the U.S. torture program:

For certain methods, notably suffocation by water, the health personnel were allegedly directly participating in the infliction of the ill-treatment. In one case, it was alleged that health personnel actively monitored a detainee’s oxygen saturation using what, from the description of the detainee of a device placed over the finger, appeared to be a pulse oxymeter. For example, Mr Khaled Shaik Mohammed alleged that on several occasion the suffocation method was stopped on the intervention of a health person who was present in the room each time this procedure was used.

Other detainees who were shackled in a stress standing position for prolonged periods in their cells were monitored by health personnel who in some instances recommended stopping the method of ill-treatment, or recommended its continuation, but with adjustments.

and

As well as the monitoring of specific methods of ill-treatment, other health personnel were alleged to have directly participated in the interrogation process. One detainee, who did not wish his name to be transmitted to the authorities, alleged that a health person threatened that medical care would be conditional upon cooperation with the interrogators.

The report goes on to explain the medical ethics all physicians must follow:

Medical ethics are based on a number of principles which include the principle of beneficence (a medical practitioner should act in the best interest of the patient – salus aegroti suprema lex), non-malefiance (first do no harm – primum non nocere) and dignity (the patient and the person treating the patient have the right to dignity).

So much for those medical vows the doctors at Guantanamo took.

And this report didn’t come from left wing partisans, but rather from one of the most neutral, objective and meticulous watchdogs in the world, the Red Cross. The report was never meant to be leaked. It was intended only for a few individuals within the U.S. government. There was no reason to fabricate, exaggerate or misstate any of the facts.

The details uncovered in the report rely on the testimony of 14 “high value detainees”. Shouldn’t we uncover all of it, interview more than just 14 detainees, but all detainees and U.S. government employees and other staff involved?

Don’t you want to find out how doctors allowed themselves to partake in torture? Don’t we have a duty to make sure this never happens again?

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14 thoughts on “Doctors who torture

  1. This is presented in a manner that suggests those involved were… shocked? As repulsive as it is, I find it hard to believe that no one expected doctors to be involved in the torture of detainees. Do you think they have a course to teach the soldiers the expertise needed to manipulate the basic life functions of the human body… Come on.

  2. Chris, you must not have heard of the School Of theAmericas,
    renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

  3. It's important to realize that doctors may not have been the only health personnel involved. The report says that the term health personnel “should be understood to include physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and other para-health staff." An April 9th editorial New York Times calls for a "full-scale investigation into these abusive practices and into who precisely participated in them."

    (I blogged about this earlier this week, for the American Journal of Nursing, where I'm a senior editor: http://ajnoffthecharts.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/t….

  4. It's important to realize that doctors may not have been the only health personnel involved. The report says that the term health personnel “should be understood to include physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and other para-health staff." An April 9th editorial New York Times calls for a "full-scale investigation into these abusive practices and into who precisely participated in them."

    (I blogged about this earlier this week, for the American Journal of Nursing, where I'm a senior editor: http://ajnoffthecharts.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/t….

  5. It's important to realize that doctors may not have been the only health personnel involved. The report says that the term health personnel “should be understood to include physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and other para-health staff." An April 9th editorial New York Times calls for a "full-scale investigation into these abusive practices and into who precisely participated in them."

    (I blogged about this earlier this week, for the American Journal of Nursing, where I'm a senior editor: http://ajnoffthecharts.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/t….

  6. This is presented in a manner that suggests those involved were… shocked? As repulsive as it is, I find it hard to believe that no one expected doctors to be involved in the torture of detainees. Do you think they have a course to teach the soldiers the expertise needed to manipulate the basic life functions of the human body… Come on.

  7. Chris, you must not have heard of the School Of theAmericas,
    renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

  8. As a nurse, I will say that I am not the least bit surprised about this information. I've watched many,many similar scenarios in the private sector emergency services where "professional" medical staff from all levels behave in an unkind and sometimes an aggressive manner. Yes, I have made a multitude of reports as well.. We are there to help…not hurt. To tolerate torture of any human being is simply unacceptable.
    I know that the poor excuse I've heard from medical staff involved in anything like that has always been " he/she deserved it" Uhm….. no.

    I am very pleased that my voice is not the only one ( seems like it some days )
    to find this behaviour not only unacceptable, but downright atrocious!

    What's worse… the torture or the acceptance of it by people who are supposed to be practitioners of the noblest of arts…healing ?

    I say they stand together as disgusting and reprehensible!

  9. It’s important to realize that doctors may not have been the only health personnel involved. The report says that the term health personnel “should be understood to include physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and other para-health staff.” An April 9th editorial New York Times calls for a “full-scale investigation into these abusive practices and into who precisely participated in them.”

    (I blogged about this earlier this week, for the American Journal of Nursing, where I’m a senior editor: http://ajnoffthecharts.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/torture-redux/).

  10. As a nurse, I will say that I am not the least bit surprised about this information. I’ve watched many,many similar scenarios in the private sector emergency services where “professional” medical staff from all levels behave in an unkind and sometimes an aggressive manner. Yes, I have made a multitude of reports as well.. We are there to help…not hurt. To tolerate torture of any human being is simply unacceptable.
    I know that the poor excuse I’ve heard from medical staff involved in anything like that has always been ” he/she deserved it” Uhm….. no.

    I am very pleased that my voice is not the only one ( seems like it some days )
    to find this behaviour not only unacceptable, but downright atrocious!

    What’s worse… the torture or the acceptance of it by people who are supposed to be practitioners of the noblest of arts…healing ?

    I say they stand together as disgusting and reprehensible!

  11. It’s disgraceful. The whole Guantanamo bay thing is appalling. And my cringing UK government went happily along with it all.
    meg RGN

  12. In reference to this quote:

    "…you must not have heard of the School Of theAmericas,
    renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)."
    Thr person made the suggestion that the school taught torture techniques. While I do not have any working knowledge of the School Of Americas other than what I have read I do have first hand knowlege of WHINSEC and its activities. I have been traveling to the school to investigate them since their beginning. I was then asked (as a religious social justice advocate) to serve as an advisor to the oversight board and eventually was invited to be on the Board Of Visitors (an unpaid position) where I now serve. I have interviewed their teachers on several occasions and researched their training materials. Having said that at no time in their history has the school ever taught interrogations techniques of any kind. If there is some evidence to contradict this statement I would like to know about it. Finally, to my amazement most social justice advocates continue for the most part to ignore the fact that WHINSEC has (in my opinion) the best Human Rights protection training programs in the world. The program is required of all students attending the school. When I try to explain this to those wanting to close the school it usually gets no response at all. It doesn't seem to matter to them that the school is in fact promoting peace, justice, and human rights protections for the people in Central and South America. All they know is that its our military training their police, military, and civilian authorities and the don't like us doing that.

    Rev. / CH (ret.) Kent Svendsen
    WHINSEC Board Of Visitors member

  13. In reference to this quote:

    “…you must not have heard of the School Of theAmericas,
    renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).”
    Thr person made the suggestion that the school taught torture techniques. While I do not have any working knowledge of the School Of Americas other than what I have read I do have first hand knowlege of WHINSEC and its activities. I have been traveling to the school to investigate them since their beginning. I was then asked (as a religious social justice advocate) to serve as an advisor to the oversight board and eventually was invited to be on the Board Of Visitors (an unpaid position) where I now serve. I have interviewed their teachers on several occasions and researched their training materials. Having said that at no time in their history has the school ever taught interrogations techniques of any kind. If there is some evidence to contradict this statement I would like to know about it. Finally, to my amazement most social justice advocates continue for the most part to ignore the fact that WHINSEC has (in my opinion) the best Human Rights protection training programs in the world. The program is required of all students attending the school. When I try to explain this to those wanting to close the school it usually gets no response at all. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that the school is in fact promoting peace, justice, and human rights protections for the people in Central and South America. All they know is that its our military training their police, military, and civilian authorities and the don’t like us doing that.

    Rev. / CH (ret.) Kent Svendsen
    WHINSEC Board Of Visitors member