Friday, August 20, 2004

America's Own Nazi Doctors

From a must read article published in medical journal The Lancet:

Abu Ghraib: its legacy for military medicine
Steven H. Miles

The complicity of US military medical personnel during abuses of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay is of great importance to human rights, medical ethics, and military medicine. Government documents show that 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…

…The medical system collaborated with designing and implementing psychologically and physically coercive interrogations. Army officials stated that a physician and a psychiatrist helped design, approve, and monitor interrogations at Abu Ghraib. This echoes the Secretary of Defense's 2003 memo ordering interrogators to ensure that detainees are "medically and operationally evaluated as suitable" for interrogation plans. 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. There are isolated reports that medical personnel directly abused detainees. Two detainees' depositions describe an incident where a doctor allowed a medically untrained guard to suture a prisoner's lacertation from being beaten.

The medical system failed to accurately report illnesses and injuries. Abu Ghraib authorities did not notify families of deaths, sicknesses, or transfers to medical facilities as required by the Convention. A medic inserted a intravenous catheter into the corpse of a detainee who died under torture in order to create evidence that he was alive at the hospital. 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.

Death certificates of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq were falsified or their release or completion was delayed for months. Medical investigators either failed to investigate unexpected deaths of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan or performed cursory evaluations and physicians routinely attributed detainee deaths on death certificates to heart attacks, heat stroke, or natural causes without noting the unnatural aetiology of the death. 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."

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. 6 months later, the Pentagon released a death certificate calling the death a homicide by asphyxia. Medical authorities allowed misleading information released by military authorities to go unchallenged for many months. In 2004, the US Secretary of Defense issued a stringent policy for death investigations.

Finally, although knowledge of torture and degrading treatment was widespread at Abu Ghraib and known to medical personnel, there is no report before the January 2004 Army investigation of military health personnel reporting abuse, degradation, or signs of torture.

Full story at The Lancet



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