Friday, August 20, 2004

Doctors and Torture

Both The Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine have published articles looking at the role of military personnel in torture.

Doctors and Torture, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, looks at the role US Military doctors played in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, medical misdeeds at Guantanamo Bay, and the conflict doctors can face in the military.

Abu Ghraib: its legacy for military medicine (registration required) is a scathing article in The Lancet that goes further than "Doctors and Torture" in detailing the abuse and misdeeds of medical personnel, as well as making a stronger call for reform. Here's a few excerpts:
  • "In one example of a compromised medically monitored interrogation, a detainee collapsed and was apparently unconscious after a beating, medical staff revived the detainee and left, and the abuse continued."

  • "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.""

  • "Legal arguments as to whether detainees were prisoners of war, soldiers, enemy combatants, terrorists, citizens of a failed state, insurgents, or criminals miss an essential point. The US has signed or enacted numerous instruments including the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and US military internment and interrogation policies, collectively containing mandatory and voluntary standards barring US armed forces from practicing torture or degrading treatments of all persons."

Both of these articles' discussion about how otherwise normal doctors can become complicit with torture and other atrocities remind me of Milgram's classic studies regarding obedience to authority. I can still remember seeing a video of Milgram's study, and reading his papers, in my social psychology class when I was an undergrad; they drove home the point that the majority of people will blindly obey an authority figure, even if it involves killing someone. This tendency to blindly obey authority is why we need strongly enforced policies in place to prevent abuse and torture.

(Both articles via BoingBoing)

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