Tied to the mast
…but orange now and black

The doctors

Salon has published a piece focused on a question that’s been bothering me since reading the Danner exposé: what was the deal with the doctors monitoring the interrogations?

Specifically, as experts, can they make any reasonable claim to have not known that it was torture they were witnessing? Are there ambiguities in the medical profession’s code of ethics that allow for them to be complicit? Is the hippocratic oath a “quaint” anachronism now too?

The article’s focus is on the circumstances surrounding the 83 waterboardings of Abu Zubaydah and gives a glimpse into the byzantine world of the American Medical Association and the World Medical Association, but ultimately opens up more questions than it actually answers. Still, very much worth reading.

I found especially interesting the highlighting of the role that having the medical presence there played in rationalizing (in what seems like deliberately vague language) the use of the torture techniques. There were some impressive contortions going on:

A recently declassified Justice Department memo discussed the involvement the OMS eventually had in supporting interrogations. That memo, quoting still-classified OMS guidelines from December 2004, said that the “use of the waterboard requires the presence of a physician.” Another memo said that OMS doctors and psychologists had been consulted about the effects of using several techniques together, such as “when an insult slap is simultaneously combined with water dousing or a kneeling stress position, or when wall standing is simultaneously combined with an abdominal slap and water dousing” and concluded they would not cause severe pain.

Medical personnel were also given the responsibility of monitoring the interrogations for safety. “Should it appear at any time that Abu Zubaydah is experiencing severe pain or suffering, the medical personnel on hand will stop the use of any technique,” Bybee’s 2002 memo said.

It is unclear whether the “medical personnel” designated to monitor Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation included M.D.s. “There is no role for physicians in those practices,” Dr. Otmar Kloiber, secretary-general of the World Medical Association, told ProPublica. Kloiber said that physician involvement in interrogations increases the chances that questioning will devolve into abuse and torture. A physician’s reassuring presence can give questioners a green light to escalate physical and mental pressure.

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