Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

This administration is torturing me

In the Sept. 28 JAMA (subscription only) Leonard Rubenstein, Christian Pross, Frank Davidoff,and Vincent Iacopino discuss the policies issued in June by the Department of Defense regarding participation by medical personnel in interrogations. As the authors put it:

The new guidelines are troubling, however, because they do not come to terms with the participation of physicians and other health care professionals in officially authorized interrogation practices that are absolutely prohibited by international human rights law, the Third Geneva Convention, and US military and domestic law that criminalizes torture, including psychological torture.

Indeed. The American Medical Association endorses standards first established by the World Medical Association, prohibiting physicians from any role in "torture or cruel, human or degrading treatment." There are corresponding UN principles. Physicians may not use their knowledge and skills to assist in interrogations, or to certify people as physically capable of withstanding ill treatment.

Well, if they work for the Department of Defense, they can. According to Rubenstein et al,
Under the DoD guidelines, the proscription against participation in any activity other than to evaluate, protect, or improve the physical and mental health of detainees applies only to health care personnel who are actively engaged in clinical treatment of detainees. A recent review of medical care of detainees ordered by the DoD and conducted by the office of the US Army surgeon general affirmed, pending further review, that psychiatrists and other physicians who do not provide clinical care can participate in the interrogation process. . . .

[T]he DoD guidelines allow physicians to “assist in the interrogation of detainees” and to participate in the certification of the fitness for treatment or punishment so long as it is in accordance with “applicable law.” . . . [O]ne of the hallmarks of current US interrogation policy has been reinterpretation of the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and US domestic criminal law against torture to permit aggressive interrogation techniques that previously have been understood to constitute torture or ill treatment. In an inquiry into allegations by US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents regarding abuse of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay facility, Lt Gen Randall Schmidt determined that the following interrogation techniques were considered by the DoD to be humane and permitted by its interpretation of law: isolation for more than 5 months, sleep deprivation lasting 48 to 54 days during which interrogation took place 18 to 20 hours per day, degradation, sexual humiliation, military dogs to instill fear, and exposure to extremes of heat and cold and loud noise for long periods—and combinations of these techniques.

Now that sounds like torture to me. James Yee, the former military chaplain who was falsely accused of espionage, has written a book in which he alleges that Major General Geoffrey Miller and other officers encouraged the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo. Miller was then sent to Iraq "“to review current Iraqi theater ability to rapidly exploit internees for actionable intelligence” and to review the arrangements at the US military prisons in Iraq," then placed in command of "detainee operations" in that country, with well-known results. He is now Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, based at the Pentagon, while low-ranking soldiers who carried out his orders have been prosecuted. This year, Mr. Bush (whose portrait appears at the top of this page) threatened to veto the defense appropriations bill if it restricted his ability to continue to torture prisoners.

The policy of torturing prisoners in Iraq is still in effect, by all indications. Any medical personnel -- physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, medical corpsmen -- have a clear ethical duty not to participate in such practices, and to publicly report any incidents of which they gain knowledge. If they are ordered to participate, they have a clear ethical duty to refuse those orders. Let's see if any of them do.

Meanwhile, the responsibility for these crimes, ultimately, lies with the Commander in Chief. Who is a Christian.

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