July 28, 2006

Dr. Steven Miles On Torture

This week KQED's Forum had a discussion with Dr. Steven Miles, author of the book Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror. One point he made was that governments are not naturally inclined to hold themselves to the high standards they agree to in their treaties. The only thing that really makes a country adhere to the standards of human dignity and human rights is that the citizens of the country force them to do so. As a doctor and medical ethicist, Dr. Miles has challenged the medical profession to hold doctors and nurses who participate (either actively or passively) accountable. During this interview, a translator called in to say how he and others in his profession are taking up the question of what ethical standards should govern their profession, because none of the interrogations could have happened without a translater being involved. Dr. Miles congratulated him on his efforts. Then he reminded the listeners that it is up to all of us to make sure our government is operating ethically.

Here are a few other articles and interviews with Miles regarding this topic.

Democracy Now: June 30, 2006 - when doctors become part of the torture system.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You talk in your book that as you were reading these 35,000 pages of documents on the various mistreatment and torture of prisoners, that you yourself became transformed as you delved into these stories. Can talk about that a little?

DR. STEVEN MILES: Yeah, when I first saw these pictures from Abu Ghraib, the question was, ďWell, where were the docs?Ē because docs and nurses are frontline human rights monitors. They're there when the Red Cross isn't. They can get into any part of the prison, and furthermore, even if they don't see the abuse, they see the signs of the abuse, and we are trained to find abuse when itís crafted to be indiscernible, okay, as a lot of abuse is.

And so I'm reading along, Iím just trying to understand why there was a failure of reporting, and all of sudden what I'm seeing is that the medical system is entirely integrated into the abuse, that there was a structure, there was an actual policy mechanism that can be seen for the delayed release of torture-related homicides, that there was an entire structure for culling patients medical records for information on their vulnerabilities, incorporating that into harsh, incursive interrogation plans, monitoring those plans, designing those plans with psychological insights to exploit the particular characteristics of Islamic men, and then monitoring the disintegration of these men, and feeding that back into the torture plans. Itís an amazing story. It was very discouraging to read. But in every country thatís fought torture, and Chileís a good example, the docs have played a key role in stopping it.

Washington Post online chat with Dr. Miles - on the efficacy of torture.

Washington, D.C.: RE: Kansas City, Mo: Almost any interrogator or intelligence professional will tell you that information obtained as the result of torture (or whatever euphemism you prefer) is inherently reliable. So your claim that the end justifies the means is not only morally bankrupt but factually false.

God bless you, Dr. Miles, for shining the spotlight on these abuses!

Dr. Steven Miles: I spend a great deal of time researching what is known about interrogational torture.

It gets bad information e.g. Saddam and Al Queda collaboration on bioweapons.

It results in sending our troops out on dangerous wild goose chases.

It alienates potential informants.

It enrages the populations against which it is directed.

It convinces opponents of the rightness of their cause and of the evil of their oppressors.

It endangers our own POWs and friends of democracy whose welfare we would support.

It does not produce usable evidence for trial.

Here's a wonderful article about Dr. Steven Miles from Minnesota Monthly when he was named the Minnesotean of the year for 2004.

Dr. Miles is to be commended on his research and his strong, compelling argument against torture. Our country has been demeaned by the ugliness and cruel stupidity of those who believe that torture is okay. I believe we must find a way to hold the perpetrators and those who setup the system accountable if we are ever to reclaim the notion that we are a decent and ethical country worthy of the respect and admiration of other people. And I am thankful that Dr. Miles has laid out the arguments so clearly and provided us a mechanism that will allow us to start on redeeming our good name.

Update: This Washington Post piece is very interesting in light of Miles' findings. Now that Bush's sham edicts that anything goes when "fighting terrorism" has been shown to be bogus by the Hamden ruling, Abu Gonzales is crafting new legislation that will protect governmental personnel who have been carrying out the interrorgation techniques from being prosecuted for war crimes. Evidently, there are US laws on the book that make it a crime to do what Addington and Miers had said Bush can allow just because he says so. The Hamden ruling made it clear that the Decider doesn't get to decide that and so now they are worried that some people might be held accountable for breaking the law.

Ratner said authorized interrogation techniques such as stress positions, temperature extremes and sleep deprivation are "clearly outlawed" under Common Article 3. But he added that prosecutions are improbable because the Justice Department -- which has consistently asserted that such rough interrogations are legal -- is unlikely to bring them. U.S. officials could argue in any event, Ratner said, that they were following policies they believed to be legal, and "a judge would most likely say that is a decent defense."

What was it that we learned in the Nuremburg trials? Oh, that's right:

The Nuremberg Defense is a legal defense that essentially states that the defendant was "only following orders" ("Befehl ist Befehl") and is therefore not responsible for his crimes. The defense was most famously employed during the Nuremberg Trials, after which it is named.

Before the end of World War II, the Allies suspected such a defense might be employed, and issued the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal, which specifically stated that this was not a valid defense against charges of war crimes.

The United States military adjusted the Uniform Code of Military Justice after World War II. They included a rule nullifying this defense, essentially stating that American military personnel are allowed to refuse unlawful orders.

I suspect the Bushies don't care too much about the soldiers caught up in this dilemma, but rather they need to change the laws so that Rummy, Cheney and even Bush can't be prosecuted for their actions in this terrible scandal.

What do you bet that Arlen Spector will come up with a boffo bill based on Abu Gonzales' fine legal thinking that makes whatever Bush wants legal?

Posted by Mary at July 28, 2006 01:08 AM | Human Rights | Technorati links |