Medical ethics and US torture

This month’s edition of The Lancet features an extensively footnoted article by Dr Stephen Miles which describes some of the issues of medical ethics in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

A few lowlights:

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found that the medical system failed to maintain internment cards with medical information necessary to protect the detainees’ health as required by the Geneva Convention; this reportedly was due to a policy of not officially processing (ie, recording their presence in the prison) new detainees.


Two detainees’ depositions describe an incident where a doctor allowed a medically untrained guard to suture a prisoner’s lacertation from being beaten.


In another case, an Iraqi man, taken into custody by US soldiers was found months later by his family in an Iraqi hospital. He was comatose, had three skull fractures, a severe thumb fracture, and burns on the bottoms of his feet. An accompanying US medical report stated that heat stroke had triggered a heart attack that put him in a coma; it did not mention the injuries.


In one example, soldiers tied a beaten detainee to the top of his cell door and gagged him. The death certificate indicated that he died of “natural causes…during his sleep.” After news media coverage, the Pentagon revised the certificate to say that the death was a “homicide” caused by “blunt force injuries and asphyxia.”

Homicide from blunt force injuries, peaceful death of natural causes during sleep… it’s a fine line, isn’t it?

In November, 2003, Iraqi Major General Mowhoush’s head was pushed into a sleeping bag while interrogators sat on his chest. He died; medics could not resuscitate him, and a surgeon stated that he died of natural causes.42 6 months later, the Pentagon released a death certificate calling the death a homicide by asphyxia.

So let’s be clear about this: we’re talking about US forces deliberately torturing prisoners of war, and accidentally murdering a few. This isn’t conspiracy theory, it’s the conclusions of the Pentagon.

Furthermore, it was official White House policy that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Bush himself signed the memo. Rumsfeld himself approved signed a memo approving use of degrading and torturous techniques including “stress positions”, 20 hour long interrogations, 30 day spells in complete isolation in solitary confinement, removal of all clothing and personal items, and use of “detainees’ individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress”. The latter, of course, is straight out of 1984, the infamous Room 101.

So let me be blunt: if you vote for the Bush administration, you are voting for torture, and I wish you many sleepless nights.