Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Role Of Doctors at Guantanamo Bay,

The New York Review of Books published the full report from the International Committee of the Red Cross the other day (PDF) and it makes some startling points which simply hadn't previously occurred to me.

It calls for, and obviously this has occurred to anyone who has been following this story as it has been breaking, prosecutions; something which the Red Cross only ever calls for "where the evidence of criminal conduct is manifest."

It demands "that the US authorities investigate all allegations of ill-treatment and take steps to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate."

The stories included in it's pages are the shocking ones which I have covered before with tales of abuse that are simply impossible to read and not to conclude that torture has taken place.

But what hadn't occurred to me, and which the report does well to highlight, is the role of medical staff in this story.

The breach of the doctor/patient relationship which occurred here is simply shocking. Doctors are supposed to put their patients health before everything else and yet, in this scenario, we have doctors examining patients purely in order to ascertain whether or not they are well enough for torture to continue.

That's about as serious a breach of medical ethics as one can imagine.

From the report:

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 - aegroti suprema lex), non-malfeasance (first do no harm - primum non nocere) and dignity (the patient and the person treating the patient have the right to dignity). These principles guide any relationship between a medical doctor and person whom he or she is relating to as a medical doctor.
It's simply impossible to read of doctors monitoring a patients oxygen saturation to decide whether or not waterboarding can continue and not to conclude that there has been a fatal breach of the doctor/patient relationship here.

And, as the report also states, the very fact that some of the methods used required the presence of a doctor to make sure that the patient did not die, says all that needs to be said about whether or not torture took place.

But what is really a shocking example of medical malpractice is the fact that these doctors were present, not to aid the patients to recovery, but to decide whether or not their bodies were able to sustain more abuse or not.

As one doctor reportedly said to one patient:
"I look after your body only because we need you for information."
The level to which the United States failed to live up to international law during this dark period in it's history is amply demonstrated in those words. Doctors were present to advise the torturers rather than to assist the patient.

When you think about that, it's about as shocking as it gets.


Rachell Maddow talks to Mark Danner who obtained the Red Cross report on the torture that occurred at GITMO and made it public at The New York Review of Books.

Click title for full report.

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