Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Beyond Anger

Can the United States sink to yet lower depths of disgrace and shame? Now that Amnesty International has called upon governments throughout the world to prosecute the U.S. officials responsible for systematic torture in military gulags, can we anticipate seeing George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld in the dock at a Nuremberg style trial in, say, Nuremberg?

George Annas, writing last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, makes it clear where the legal and moral responsibility lie for these atrocities, although he does not fully spell it out. Annas writes, "The road to torture at Abu Ghraib begins arguably with the president's decision in February 2002 that the Geneva Conventions would not apply to 'enemy combatants' jailed at Guantanamo Bay. This decision was made over the strong objections of . .. Colin Powell and without any meaningful input from career lawyers in the armed services. . . . The reasons [sic] given for taking prisoners to Guantanamo was that the global war on terror was a 'new kind of war' that made the Geneva Conventions inapplicable and that Guantamo . . . should be used as an interrogation center . . . that was outside the jurisdiction and . . . oversight of U.S. Courts."

The administration decided that the Constitution and international law were inapplicable in Guantanamo, and Rumsfeld specifically approved torture methods to be used there. What particularly interests Annas, and what is most relevant for this site, is the involvement of physicians in torture practiced by the United States in Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Rumsfeld's directive specifically said that prisoners must be medically cleared before they were tortured.

Annas doesn't specifically say so, but military physicians are known to have taken part in torture in all three countries, by certifying that prisoners could survive proposed torture techniques, by failing to report torture, and by failing to provide appropriate medical care and pain relief to torture victims. In a case recently exposed by an Army criminal investigation reported in the New York Times, physicians in Afghanistan were evidently mistaken, and two prisoners -- both, if it matters, apparently entirely innocent -- died under torture.

The Bush administration's moral values have corrupted the military, the State Department, and the intelligence services, as well as our public discourse and politics. They have also corrupted members of the medical profession. I would hope that the identities of physicians who have participated in war crimes will be made known, and if the authorities refuse to prosecute them, at the very least state licensing authorities will not allow them to practice medicine any longer. That seems an anticlimactic way to end this post, but unfortunately I cannot be very hopeful that the persons most reponsible -- including the strutting, self-adoring, morally depraved fool who occupies the presidency -- will ever be made to answer.

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