Monday, April 20, 2009

COMMENT: On CIA doctors and Hippocratic hypocrisy ...

There are medical practitioners. And then there are medico-legal mercenaries. I came across a few of the latter during my brief stint as a plaintiff personal injury lawyer. The amount of compensation my punters got was determined by the extent of their impairment. I’d send my clients for an assessment by anyone of my plaintiff specialists, some of whom wrote reports making whiplash look like paraplegia. The insurers would then have the punter assessed by one of their specialists, who usually wrote reports “proving” an actual paraplegic punter could outrun Cathy Freeman. It was all terribly scientific.

Faced with this competing evidence, the judge usually came up with an assessment in line with what the punter’s treating doctor had to say. After all, the treating doctor had a longer history of working with the patient and hence more able to provide a prognosis. Treating doctors generally give more than a rat’s backside for the punter. Why? Well, for starters they have this code of ethics summarised in the Hippocratic Oath. Secondly, they know breaching the oath compromises their indemnity insurance.

None of this seems to have crossed the minds of medical practitioners overseeing detainees in secret CIA “black site” prisons in 3 continents during George W Bush’s so-called “war on terror”. The Washington Post reported these doctors

... committed gross violations of medical ethics and in some cases essentially participated in torture.

A 43-page report by the International Committee of the Red Cross quoted one medical officer even telling an inmate: “I look after your body only because we need you for information”.

Another detainee told ICRC he was made to stand with his arms shackled overhead for a period of 2 to 3 months! Other forms of torture included waterboarding as well as being threatened with sodomy, HIV infection and electric shocks. Believe it or not, the CIA Director Leon Panetta is insisting that “no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished”.

Legal guidance? What lawyer would advise doctors to breach fundamental medical ethics? Perhaps the same Defence Department lawyers mentioned in the 2008 book Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law by international lawyer and academic Philippe Sands QC. Those lawyers joined with neo-conservative politicians to produce the 2002 Acton Memo signed by Donald Rumsfeld. The Memo enabled interrogators at Guantanamo Bay (and later at Abu Ghraib) to lawfully commit acts of torture in violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

And so the US and its allies (including Australia) fought a war to defend our values using methods that threatened our values. Go figure.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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