Three weeks ago, this writer asked the question where the medical staff was when the prisoner abuse was happening. Now, the medical community is asking the same question.
In a feature article, the British Medical Journal, the Lancet, Dr. Steven Miles, a physician at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, US, is citing what might turn out to the be most damming part of the scandal - complicity by the military doctors and medical staff, and accessory to the torture and murder.
Using media reports, congressional testimony, sworn statements of detainees and soldiers, and medical journal accounts, Dr. Miles, wrote the report for the British Medical Journal that documents among other things - the doctors at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison falsified death certificates to hide killings, hid evidence of beatings and revived a prisoner so he could be tortured more. In another case, a medic inserted a catheter into the corpse of a detainee who died from torture to create evidence the prisoner was alive at the hospital.
The US Military quickly responded discounting the congressional testimony, sworn statements of detainees and soldiers, and claiming Dr. Miles accusations are meaningless because he did not witness the abuse first hand.
A large, ugly, and uncomplimentary picture is emerging showing that the military medical staff was actively involved in the abuse and the cover-up.
Dr. Miles stated: the US military medical system failed to protect detainees' human rights, sometimes collaborated with interrogators or abusive guards, and failed to properly report injuries or deaths caused by beatings".
Another incident in November 2003, a surgeon listed "natural causes" as the cause of death of a man who actually died when interrogators put his head in a sleeping bag and sat on his chest. Six months later, the Pentagon ruled the death a homicide by asphyxia.
"Where was their protest, where was their whistle blowing?" asks physician Michael Grodin, director of the law, medicine, and ethics program at Boston University, US.
Dr. Grodin went on despite their oath of care, doctors have a long history of subverting their duties to patients in favor of other interests in "closed systems where there's no transparency", such as prisons. The most egregious offenders, he says, were Nazi doctors who murdered people in death camps .
Dr. Michael Goldrich, chairman of its council on ethical and judicial affairs, American Medical Association, has said that the AMA has a long standing policy prohibiting doctors in participating in the types of things that happened in the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal.
"Participation in torture by physicians is the most egregious concern, but there are other levels that can range from physicians caring for patients to facilitate their return to interrogation and torture, or just awareness of the ongoing presence of torture," Dr. Goldrich said.
The medical community is demanding an investigation into the doctors and medical staff who were involved in the horrid actions that took place in the Iraq prison.
Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, noting mounting reports of abuses has urged military doctors to come forward with what they know. He alluded to incidents in the past where doctors had roles in torture or abuse, including the brutal experiments by Joseph Mengele and other Nazi doctors during World War II.
Martha Huggins, an author, sociologist and longtime torture researcher from Tulane University, in an address to American Association for the Advancement of Science conference, said Being a doctor and being a soldier are not conflicting duties. Even if officers or other military personnel were abusing prisoners and detainees, it doesn't mean the system expects a doctor to be complicit .
Scandals such as these are having a direct, and adverse, effect on the humanitarian efforts of the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders. Doctors without Borders have sustained over 30 fatalities of their workers so far this year due to hostile fire, and have completely removed themselves from Afghanistan. Medical personnel are being seen now as the enemy and participants in torture, abuse, and bringers of death.
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