July 5, 2010
American doctors in the Middle East routinely approved the torture of
captured suspects and denied them critical medications such as insulin,
sometimes with lethal consequences, according to a documented report
published in the "Utne Reader."
In Dec., 2002, Defense Secy. Donald Rumsfeld issued a directive allowing
interrogators to withhold medical care in nonemergency situations so
that "men with injuries including gunshot wounds were denied treatment
as a way to make them talk," writes author Justine Sharrock. Although
the directive was soon revoked, "the practice continued," she said.
Interrogations conducted at the infamous Abu Ghraib correctional
facility in Baghdad had to be preapproved by a physician and
psychiatrist, and the CIA got like orders for the punishments it
inflicted at its sites.
Sharrock quotes medic Andrew Duffy of the 134th medical company of the
Iowa National Guard who told her the attitude of Abu Ghraib’s medical
officers toward prisoners was "screw these guys" and who said he was
ridiculed for trying to save one man’s life using CPR.
Long after the world-shaking Abu Ghraib photos were published in 2004
and the Pentagon vowed to stop abusing prisoners, "men were still being
strapped into restraint chairs and left in the sun for hours or locked
in cells too small to lie down in," Sharrock writes. "The medics
regularly found prisoners dehydrated, wrists bloody from overtight
handcuffs, ankles swollen from forced standing, joints dislocated from
stress positions." (Abu Ghraib’s former commandant Gen. Janis Karpinski
once estimated 90% of the prisoners were innocent.)
In one instance involving detainee No. 173379 who appeared to need an
insulin injection, medics were told to inject the man instead with
saline solution using a 14-gauge needle more than two millimeters in
diameter of the sort that was used as punishment or to discourage
prisoners from seeking care, MP’s doused him with pepper spray and stuck
him in a tiny cell in the scorching heat, Sharrock writes, and he died
the next day. Duffy’s written complaint to his supervising captain
Pentagon top health official doctor William Winkenwerder Jr. in 2005
allowed military physicians to participate in torture and share medical
records with interrogators so long as a detainee wasn’t officially their
patient, Sharrock writes. Winkenwerder, she adds, got an award from the
American Medical Assn.(AMA) that year for outstanding contributions "to
the betterment of the public health." The AMA has refused to condemn
Pentagon and CIA torture practices and made no response when in Feb.,
2006, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights condemned U.S. doctors for
having "systematically" participated in detainee abuse. Bioethicist
Steven Miles of the University of Minnesota Medical School said the U.N.
condemnation should have been "a call to arms" yet "the AMA said
Sharrock said none of the AMA’s top officials she contacted would
comment on her story. Nor has any State licensing board, which have the
authority to suspend licenses, "ever disciplined a doctor for assisting
in military torture.
As for the American Psychiatric Assn., in May, 2006, its President
Steven Sharfstein noted that psychiatrists "wouldn’t get into trouble"
if they heeded military orders over the APA’s advice that members should
not directly assist in interrogations, which he added should not be
considered "an ethical rule," Sharrock writes. Her Utne Reader article
was first published in Mother Jones magazine.
Award-winning journalist Sherwood Ross formerly reported for wire
services and major dailies, including the Miami Herald and New York
Herald-Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com