31 August 2009

Medical Professionals and Torture

According to a report from Physicians for Human Rights, doctors and mental health professionals were rather more involved in the US torture program than previously thought:

PHR Analysis: CIA Health Professionals’ Role in Torture Worse Than Previously Known
Cambridge, MA — The extent to which American physicians and psychologists violated human rights and betrayed the ethical standards of their professions by designing, implementing, and legitimizing a worldwide torture program is greater than previously known, according to a report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).[...]

The required presence of health professionals did not make interrogation methods safer, but sanitized their use, escalated abuse, and placed doctors and psychologists in the untenable position of calibrating harm rather than serving as protectors and healers. The fact that psychologists went beyond monitoring, and actually designed and implemented these abuses – while simultaneously serving as 'safety monitors' – reveals the ethical bankruptcy of the entire program,
It's long disgusted me that American public servants were authorized to torture during the Bush administration.  It's not surprising but no less disturbing to find out that there were doctors, sworn to heal, taking part in these sessions.

This is Dr. Josef Mengele. He is rightly remembered with loathing by all members of the medical profession. He has become the symbol of the medical professional corrupted by power, the apostate healer who abandoned the Hippocratic oath.   It would be wrong to equate the American physicians who monitored the prisoners being tortured under President Bush with Dr Mengele; his crimes and depravity were far worse.  Yet they are his modern-day brethren, and the comparison is apt. 

Bear in mind: physicians have an ethical obligation not to take part in practices which harm.  It's not an accident of history that doctors are ethically forbidden to assist in executions.  That some do participate in judicial executions is a matter for their own consciences, they are generally cloaked in anonymity and shielded from public view.  And so it likely shall be for the physicians who participated in President Bush's torture program; the likelihood of accountability seems low.  But the public position of the profession of medicine is clear: doctors are medical professionals and dedicated to helping their charges. To take part in activities intended to hurt or to kill is beyond the pale and shameful in the extreme, and cannot be condoned in any way.


  1. Wander through any ICU in America and there is torture going on, demanded by families, carried out by doctors, and forced by lawyers.

    Intubated 90 year olds getting hemodialysis septic from bedsores and foleys.

    I agree with Obama on exactly two things he has done in this administration.

    1. shoot those somali pirates
    2. try to even discuss futile care.

  2. Obama has hardly been a shining example of anti-torture policy. His position on rendition has changed nothing since the Bush administration.

  3. This may be the first picture I've ever seen of Mengele...it's certainly this first picture I've seen of a Young Mengele.
    It's startling. Impossible to look at that photo and see the monster. No mistake, Mengele was evil to the bone. He performed procedures on human beings that would be illegal if performed on lab rats today.

  4. Yeah, some part of me still can't quite accept that in my country, torture is a 50/50 sort of issue, we tortured a hundred-odd folks to death (that we know of), and almost certainly, nobody above a few luckless Army guys will ever serve an hour in prison for it.

    Like the picture of Mengele, sometimes monters look like perfectly normal, respectable folks. Sometimes we elect them, or see them appointed to little outcry, sometimes we even join in with them on their monstrous deeds.

  5. Of course monsters look normal. To believe otherwise is to presume there is some genetic link between appearance and behavior. It is only in theatrical presentations that villains have hunched backs, scars, and other deformities (Richard III had all of these). Those with deformities, or even just less than attractive, are not exhibiting signs of inner evil. But try to get the average person to understand that.

    Another problem that we ignore is the excuse of, If I didn't do it, somebody else would have done it in a much worse way. This is a huge problem in EMS, where doctors become medical directors and let CEOs, fire chiefs, city managers, . . . tell the doctor how he/she will oversee the medical care provided by paramedics. This is nothing, but abandonment of patients.

  6. Mengele was probably one of the most evil men on the planet, but then again, George Bush Jr. was not a much better person. Many scientists from the Nazi regime were brought to America through Project Paperclip, and began construction on Disney World, started NASA (Van Braun), and even our developments in cloning and other black projects are all products of Nazi technology. The Nazi "Bell" was even the first man made "UFO" with jet engines made by BMW.


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