Emma Draper

Harming not healing

on 03 September 2009


A new report by Physicians for Human Rights calls for health professionals involved in torture to face investigation for unprofessional and criminal conduct.

In the wake of the release of the CIA Inspector General's report, which revealed the intelligence service's use of 'enhanced interrogation' techniques including prolonged diapering, 'walling' (the detainee is placed in a neck collar which is then used to slam him against a wall) and confinement in a box, Physicians for Human Rights have published a report entitled 'Aiding Torture'.

It details the profound complicity of health professionals in the torture of terror suspects at US detention facilities. Physicians and psychologists not only monitored the use of harmful techniques - the report repeats previous allegations that pulse oximeters were used during water-boarding so that the subject could be brought 'safely' to the brink of death - but designed, selected and rationalized them.

Medical ethics are not comprised of a few vague ideas about attempting to heal rather than harm; they are a clear and established set of principles set forth in the Declaration of Geneva, the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Tokyo. The latter specifically states: "The doctor shall not countenance, condone or participate in the practice of torture".

Health professionals who involve themselves in the torture of prisoners should certainly be held to account professionally; their misconduct should rightly cost them their medical licenses. They have also, however, broken international law by facilitating and participating in war crimes, and  in accordance with the doctrine of 'command responsibility', they are criminally liable as well.

Read the full report below.

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