Torture and the medical profession

A soldier is trained to kill. A medical doctor is trained to heal. Whilst a soldier is also trained to engage in peace-time operations such as well-digging, road-building, bridge-building etc. a medic is in no way trained to engage in killing (unless in his/her capacity as a soldier, not a medic).

One can find a slim margin of understanding for soldiers, in combat, who are brutalised by the conflict and in turn brutalise their enemy (or perceived enemy). Such brutality is immoral, unethical and illegal, but does need to be judged in context.

That a doctor – who has solemnly pledged to save life and relieve suffering – should be directly involved in torture, either through designing torture techniques, assessing how far the techniques can be applied, helping restore the victim to some degree of health in order to subject him to torture again, assessing the degree of perceived pain in the victim in order to draft reports declaring that such techniques are not in fact torture, or even healing the victim yet failing to condemn the treatment, is an utter abomination.

Unfortunately, horrifyingly, the involvement of medical professionals in all stages of the ‘enhanced interrogation’ programme, from the original consultation through to interrogation and post-interrogation, has been known about for many years and has been well documented. Unfortunately, it is still not widely discussed or even known.

To begin with, Amnesty International explains in, as always, clear and simple terms, the generic situation of the relationship between the medical profession and torture in a brief 2002 report Doctors and torture.

More closely linked to the War of Terror, there are countless organisations and countless documents attesting to the specific cases of CIA detention facilities over the last 8 years.

Physicians for Human Rights 2 min video Tortured Logic

Here follow the documents referred to in the video:

The website When Healers Harm

The Centre for Constitutional Rights report: Current Conditions of Confinement at Guantanamo

Human Rights Watch

There are many other NGO reports, newspaper and journal articles, and testimonies related to this.

There's something about doctors involved in torture that evokes the most terrifying of reactions. A mindless thug with a truncheon and a stout pair of boots is a horrible concept, but, as horror films have so often exploited, such thugs are usually depicted in the service of evil, not as evil personified. They, however, do their master's bidding: the wormy weasle in the white coat. Michael Palin's calm evil at the end of Gilliam's Brazil. Ben Kingsley as (the alleged) Dr. Miranda in Death and the Maiden.

Ultimately, the grim reality of the presence of medical professionals in the ongoing abuse of detainees is the horrifying evocation of some of the darkest chapters of the 20th Century. Whilst, obviously, nothing comes close to the savagery of Nazi research in the concentration camps and the deepest horror of Dr. Josef Mengele, nevertheless, a number of the reports allege that some medics in these CIA detention facilities have taken eager notes concerning the breaking point of the victims, the threshold of organ failure, the correct procedures to observe for waterboarding, the most effective pain-creating techniques, etc. etc. In short, more than simply not reporting abuse, more than restoring a victim for further abuse, more than advising the best methods, it appears that some medics have attempted to further their knowledge of human suffering and physical endurance through careful monitoring and recording of the abuse.

Somehow, in a twisted irony, it is this clinical scientific face to the torture that is the most chilling. When will we see the result of their findings in a peer-reviewed journal?

Roll on the truth commission.

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