Health professionals and U.S. torture

My friend Maureen’s son is a newly graduated medical doctor who paid for
his med school through a U.S. Army-run scheme and as a result is soon going
to be deployed to Iraq. I can barely imagine how worried she is about
the whole situation. Mo, this post is for you (and him).

I guess many JWN readers will have seen reference to

article, in the current issue of the premier British medical journal
The Lancet
, in which University of Minnesota bioethicist Stephen Miles
pulled together the available evidence about the failures of U.S. military
medical personnel to abide by their professional duty
–and the Geneva Conventions–
in their work in detention situations in Iraq (mainly Abu Ghraib), Guantanamo,
and Afghanistan.

As this
excellent editorial in the same issue of The Lancet summarizes
Dr. Miles’s case,

there are now reports
of medical personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq allegedly abusing detainees,
falsifying and delaying death certificates, and covering up homicides. No
unprompted reports of abuses were initiated by medical personnel before
the official investigation into practices at Abu Ghraib. At Guantanamo Bay,
medical records were routinely shared with interrogators in a clear breach
of confidentiality and with the knowledge that such information can be misused
despite objections by the medical team of the International Committee of
the Red Cross, who in protest suspended their medical visits.

I’m glad that a number of global media organizations, including CNN, ABC
News, Al-Jazeera, The Guardian, etc have picked up on Miles’s study,
even if only very briefly.

I note, too, that (the US branch of) Physicians for Human Rights has also
paid some good attention to the Miles study, which meshes in well with their
own continuing project to look at
“Dual Loyalty and Human Rights in health professional practise”

. The PHR folks have been carrying out that project in collaboration
with researchers at the University of Cape Town who are only too well aware
of how–during the apartheid era in South Africa–health professionals were routinely
forced by the grossly abusive state to violate their own professional ethics,
especially in situations of conflict against national liberation forces.

Welcome to the dilemmas and “conflicting loyalties” faced by the medical
personnel working with the US military in Iraq…

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U.S. torture revelations: Gitmo & Abu Ghraib

As I’ve predicted a few times, further revelations about Uncle Sam’s terrifying record of detainee abuse have continued to come out throughout the summer. Today, we had the news about the start of the trial of a visibly pregnant (but still truculent) Lynndie England. There have also been a couple of other tidbits in the major media that give notice of intriguing additional news items to come…
First, Newsweek has this story, by Michael Hirsch and John Barry, telling us that the Schlesinger Commission, appointed by Rumsfeld himself to look into the detainee abuse issue, will be issuing its report in mid-August: and it may assign blame to people high up in the Pentagon, including possibly Bombs-Away Don himself.
They write:

    there is strong sentiment to assign some responsibility up the line to senior civilian officials at the Pentagon, including Rumsfeld, several sources close to the discussions say. The Defense secretary is expected to be criticized, either explicitly or implicitly, for failing to provide adequate numbers of properly trained troops for detaining and interrogating captives in Afghanistan and Iraq. His office may also be rebuked for not setting clear interrogation rules and for neglecting to see that guidelines were followed. The commissioners “are taking an unvarnished look at the issue as a whole,” said a source close to the commission. “A more extensive look than some people had initially thought they might take.”

Certainly worth watching out for. (Hirsh and Barry make clear that former Secdef Jim Schlesinger, who’s heading the four-person commission, may be a hawk, but he’s also a fiercely independent thinker who has already won at least one significant battle with Bombs-Away Don over the scope of the commission’s work.)
Over at ABC News, meanwhile, there’s an exclusive bit of reporting that the three Brit-cits who were freed from Guantanamo in March have produced a “written account” of their time there that details some pretty nasty treatment.
We actually saw this item on ABC Evening (TV) News this evening, and the reporter was holding up some kind of a bound, report-type publication that seemed to be the “account” in question. I even think the reporter (I forget who it was) said it would be presented to someone tomorrow, or soon thereafter.
There’s nothing about that in the ABC web story. But it does say this:

Continue reading “U.S. torture revelations: Gitmo & Abu Ghraib”

Rolling Stone on Abu Ghraib

Rolling Stone has an article by Osha Gray Davidson that describes some of the info in the 160 “annexes” (6,000 pages) to the US Army’s internal Taguba report into conditions at Abu Ghraib prison. These annexes have been provided to Congressional investigators but not–until now–to the general public.
Thanks to Yankeedoodle for signaling this piece.
Davidson’s piece is definitely worth reading (if you have a strong stomach.) Not many actual new “revelations” apart from numerous apparently credible statements from previous inmates about rapes by guards and other members of the prison staff of male (and apparently also female) prisoners. And quite a lot more details about incidents like the night that Sgt. Graner, Pvt Lynndie England, and their co-workers took so many photos of all their abuses.
And this:

    According to an internal Army investigation contained in the secret files, the civilian-run Coalition Provisional Authority had hired at least five members of Fedayeen Saddam — a paramilitary organization of fanatical Saddam loyalists — to work as guards at the prison. An Iraqi guard, probably one of “Saddam’s martyrs,” had smuggled the gun and two knives into the prison in an inner tube, placed them in a sheet and tossed them up to the second-story window of Cell 35. In May, when Taguba testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen.Wayne Allard asked him a direct question: “Did we have terrorists in the population at this prison?” Taguba answered, “Sir, none that we were made aware of.” His own files make clear, however, that a more accurate response would have been: “Yes, sir — but only among the guards.”

Davidson’s analysis points a finger of responsibility pretty clearly at Maj-Gen. Barbara Fast, the Chief of Military Intelligence in Iraq–at the time, and still today; and also at Maj-Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the man who was sent from Gitmo to Abu Ghraib in October 2003 to try to “Gitmo-ize” the intel-gathering operations there– and who was subsequently named director of all detainee operations in Iraq, a position that he still holds.
If Sen. Warner and all the other Congressional people who’ve been trying to investigate and reform this whole situation want to be taken seriously by us taxpayers, then I suggest they should at the very least require that Generals Fast and Miller be reassigned from their current positions– at the double!

Al-Libi’s coerced ‘information’ = crud

Douglas Jehl has a piece in today’s NYT about the fact that the information “gleaned” from CIA interrogations of high-ranking Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was subsequently recanted by him–and the “information” in question was subsequently “discredited”.
So much for the justifications for torture based on the “necessity” of using it to get information about imminent threats, and the “value” of the information thus obtained.
This is especially significant, because the alleged “info” that al-Libi gave his interrogators was about how Saddam’s Iraq had allegedly “provided training in chemical and biological weapons to members of al-Qaeda”, and was a good part of the purported “evidence” that was used to jerk US and UK citizens into supporting the invasion of Iraq.
Juan Cole has a lengthy post on his blog today, the gist of which is that maybe al-Libi’s “confession” was part of a much bigger, and very fiendish campaign by the Qaeda leadership to jerk the US into the war against Iraq… as part of an even broader campaign that jerked the US into the invasion of Afghanistan and also sought to rupture US-Saudi ties.
It’s a daring theory. Personally, I believe the Iraq and Saudi parts of it are much more persuasive than the Afghan part… After all, Qaeda lost a very valuable safe haven as a result of the US invasion of Afghanistan; whereas the overthrow of Saddam’s regime and the weakening of the House of Saud were very much in its interest…
Be that as it may, the big question about the whole al-Libi interrogation story still remains about that of the notable ineffectiveness of trying to gain useful information from a captive through torture…

Continue reading “Al-Libi’s coerced ‘information’ = crud”

Darfur crisis links

Today, I wrote a column for the CSM about the Darfur crisis. It’ll run on Thursday. I did a bunch of research on-line for it, and a little bit off-line. So that you out there in JWN readers’-ville can share some of the resources I found–and so that I can find them again when I need to–I thought I’d put some of the links to good stuff that I found into a post here.
Here for starters is a really shocking graphic from the USAID website that shows the “Projected Mortality rates in Darfur, Sudan, 2004-2005.”
I honestly don’t know what they base their projections on there, but I assume and hope it’s some fairly solid data and analysis. One shocking conclusion they present is that “Cumulative death rate would be approx. 30% of vulnerable group over 9 month period.” They project that the “Crude Mortality Rate” (CMR) might peak at the end of this December at a rate of 20 deaths per 10,000 heads of population per day.
20 a day is 600 a month which, if sustained, would mount to 6,000 deaths over 10 months. But after December, they say, the “CMR will decrease as people die or migrate out.”
One big issue in delivering aid and keeping people healthy and alive in Darfur is the annual rains. These are just mounting now: July, August, and September are peak rainfall months. Reliefweb has a good portal to a bunch of good maps about the Darfur crisis. In this one, you can see how the “front-line” of the rains is moving slowly northward through the region as I write this. In this one, you can see which parts of Western Darfur are completely inaccessible during the rains, which are accessible, and which–the vast majority, are only “partly accessible”.
This map shows the locations of “IDP concentrations and refugee locations” as of June.
Lots more maps and charts there!
Still on maps, Human Rights Watch has a good, clear one showing the region’s towns, and the main tribal groupings here. That’s part of their broader online resource center on the crisis.
Yeah, I admit I’m a maps-and-charts junkie. But I also like other kinds of resources…

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Zero tolerance for torture: the column!

The life of a humble scribe like myself has its frustrations and disappointments. But every so often, I feel unbelievably blessed by being able to do what I do. And right now is one such moment. My column Zero-tolerance on torture: How hard is that? is in tomorrow’s Christian Science Monitor. And it’s already up, here, on their website.
I can’t tell you how strongly I feel about this issue. (Regular JWN readers just possibly have an inkling.) I am really grateful to my editor on the CSM Opinion page, Clara Germani, for having squeezed this one into the paper outside of my regular schedule. It was probably she, too, who picked the title, which I’m kinda fond of.
So would any of the rest of you like to join in this campaign? Like, if you’re a US citizen, you could write to your representatives in Congress? We could make signs and go hold ’em outside the political conventions?
Alternatively, if you prefer your activism to be in cyberspace, maybe you could send the column around to anyone on your lists. Call your local paper and ask them to run it… I don’t know, I just wish we could get this campaign off the ground. How hard is that, indeed?

Human Rights Watch, on Israel

So many of Israel’s blindly ardent defenders in the west make the claim that Amnesty Internatinal and Human Rights Watch criticize Israel “disproportionately”. This past week, HRW executive director Ken Roth wrote a good op-ed in the Jerusalem Post in which he stoutly defended the organization’s record.
Since I’m on HRW’s Middle East Advisory Committee, I am happy to provide that link to Ken’s piece. Ah, but I just checked: they require registration. So here is the full text:

    The truth hurts
    Apr. 1, 2004
    As the UN Commission on Human Rights meets for its annual session in Geneva, one can understand why Israel feels picked on. Many commission members are abusive governments that will spend an inordinate amount of time condemning Israel while doing everything possible to protect themselves and their allies from critical scrutiny.
    It would thus be understandable if the Jerusalem Post were to criticize the commission or others who apply a similarly blatant double standard. But in recent months, the Post’s opinion pages seem fixated instead on Human Rights Watch – an organization with a long record of objectively reporting on not only Israel’s conduct but also abuses by Palestinian groups and repressive governments throughout the region and the world.
    Human Rights Watch reports are taken seriously by the press, the public, and policymakers of nearly all political persuasions, including the Israeli government. Yet it is precisely this credibility that seems so irksome to the Post’s opinion writers. At a time when Israel desperately needs a hard-nosed, honest evaluation of its human rights practices, the Post’s opinion writers seem determined to demonize those who are most capable of providing that assessment. Sadly, truth is rarely an obstacle to these attacks.

    Continue reading “Human Rights Watch, on Israel”

Ignatieff’s “mea not-quite-culpa”

Thoughtful human-rights theorist Michael Ignatieff has a one-year-after piece in the NYT mag today. He starts off with an apparently frank and engaging admission:

    A year ago, I was a reluctant yet convinced supporter of the war in Iraq. A year later, the weapons of mass destruction haven’t turned up, Iraqis are being blown up on their way to the mosque, democracy is postponed till next year and my friends are all asking me if I have second thoughts. Who wouldn’t have?

Later, he writes that in the run-up to the war his view had been that,

    While I thought the case for preventive war was strong, it wasn’t decisive. It was still possible to argue that the threat was not imminent and that the risks of combat were too great. What tipped me in favor of taking these risks was the belief that Hussein ran an especially odious regime and that war offered the only real chance of overthrowing him. This was a somewhat opportunistic case for war, since I knew that the administration did not see freeing Iraq from tyranny as anything but a secondary objective…
    I couldn’t see how I could will the end — Hussein must go — without willing the only available means: American invasion, if need be, alone…
    So I supported an administration whose intentions I didn’t trust, believing that the consequences would repay the gamble.

But then, in his most serious (if still not totally explicit) admission of error yet, he writes,


RELIGION AND ATROCITY: I know full well that many terrible actions have been undertaken in the past in the name of “religion”, and that this tendency continues to this day. But still, as I have been pursuing my research project on how societies deal with legacies of violence, I have become increasingly aware that in the aftermath of universe-shattering atrocities, religion can in some cases play some really helpful roles.
(I am writing these thoughts from Mozambqiue. More on that, below.)
Religion can comfort the afflicted. It can help survivors to once again discern some worthwhile structure in the universe. It can provide help in healing wounded spirits, and some lessons on how to avoid iterations of violence and atrocity. It CAN do all these things– which is not to say that it always does them…
Last year, I noticed some religions doing these things in Rwanda– a country that along with neighbors Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo cries out for help in a cruel, atrocity-laden world. Yes, I know that in 1994 some church leaders were deeply imlicated in the commission of the genocide. But it seemed to me that over the years since 1994, other church leaders– especially in the evangelistic protestant churches– were doing an incredible job of helping to heal the deep rifts inside Rwandan society.
I worshiped with one of the numerous vibrant local Quaker communities. Their enthusiastically evangelical worship service– like their social projects around the country– united Hutus and Tutsis, survivors of the genocide along with family members of suspected perpetrators.
I saw the same kind of unifying role being played by Moucecore, the evangelical Anglican mission were I stayed in Kigali.
Here in Mozambique, I was at first mainly concerned with looking at the unique role some local church leaders played in facilitating the peace negotiations that in 1992 finally succeeded in bringing an end to– by then– some 16 years of internecine civil war.
(I was sitting talking with a group of former civil war combatants in a small town here yesterday. And I mentioned– based on my own personal experience in Lebanon as well as my study of other cases, that so-called “civil wars”– i.e., those inside countries– are actually often much nastier and more atrocious than big, formal, inter-state wars. My interlocutors there all nodded and smiled wryly in recognition of this sad truth.)
But I have always also been really interested in the role that many religions– indigenous religions, as well as formal Christian and Muslim denominations and syncretic religions that combine elements from more than one of these roots–played both during and after the war in helping those scarred by war to rebuild their universes and their selves.
On Wednesday, we were talking to the leader of a nationwide group of disabled ex-combatants. He pegged into our meeting on his critches, one trouser-leg hanging empty as he walked. He talked very movingly about how, once the fact of his disablement came home to him– he had been wounded by one of the millions of landmines planted throughout the country– he had lost nearly all sense of his own worth.
“The worst thing was seeing my family look at me and feel sad about me,” he said. “That made me feel so guilty. I couldn’t decide whether to leave the family and go someplace else, or just kill myself… But in the end, it was through going to church that I learned to deal with my disablement. It was the church that gave me a feeling of community, and the church that helped me see I must find a way to live the way I am now.”
Today, Salomao, Leila, and I had two really productive, wonderful meetings with religious leaders. The first was with (Anglican) Bishop Dinis Sengulane, who along with Cardinal Alexander Dos Santos (whom we saw Tuesday) and two other local church leaders had helped persuade President Chissano, back in 1988, that the Mozambique government needed to enter into direct talks with the leaders of the Renamo opposition if it wanted to find a way to end the war.
He shared incredible numbers of deep insights with us– all crammed into a 40-minute meeting. He summed up the principles that had enabled the church leaders’ work of persuasion to to succeed; and described the campaign the churches waged in the community to help prepare Mozambicans for peace even while their leaders were still negotiating.
Sengulane has written a short book about these experiences called “Victory without losers”– in Portuguese only, I’m afraid. But we’ll get hold of a copy. I think I’m pretty good at deciphering written Portuguese– so who knows, maybe reading his book will bring me instant comprehension???
And after that, we drove to the headquarters of the Association of Mozambican Traditional Healers. This was my second visit there. Back in late August 2001, I made a whirlwind visit to them with my friend Breyette Lorntz (who speaks a little Portuguese) and Francisco Assis, an activist with the local Methodist peace organization, Justapaz.
The first time, the meeting had been rushed, ragged, and very inconclusive. One problem was that Francisco Assis did not have a language in common with the Association spokesperson with whom we were meeting, so all items of dialogue had to go through two entire channels of interpretation between me and the spokesman. (Try discussing things like post-violence trauma in such a way: inclarity piled upon inclarity.)
This time, at least Salomao was able to speak to the dozen or so traditional healers who took part in the meeting in a mutually understandable local language. Plus, he was already fairly familiar with the project, since he’s been working with it for a little while already. So communication seemed much better. Until we came to the point that had embarrassed and confused me during the last meeting– the one where the healers flat-out ask for a contribution.
Maybe Salomao and I should have talked about this possibility before. But anyway, I kind of really understood the healers’ point of view when the request came. I mean, here they are, people of incredible wisdom and knowledge. But neither they nor their wisdom gets much respect in the modern world.
Plus hey, people are asking for money for their services ALL THE TIME in the world I come from: but they do so in complcated, ritualized ways like making grant proposals and jumping through all the requisite hoops to try to win those grants. (I know whereof I speak. Believe me.)
So maybe there’s something refreshing about a different tradition in which, as they told me, you should make an offering right at the very beginning in order to pave the way for the good spirits to come to the encounter.
“Otherwise,” one them told us, “if a person seeking help from a healer doesn’t do this, he might even get dizzy and lose his way or not even be able to find his way out of the room!”
“What do you think?” I asked Salomao. “Should I make a contribution?”
“Maybe. Whatever you think.”
I dug into my purse for some meticais (the local currency) and handed them to S. He, Leila, the head of the Association and I were all sitting fairly formally behind a table on one side of the cavernous, nearly bare room where we were meeting. (Not much, if anything, had changed in it since I was there nearly two years ago. These guys are certainly operating on very low budgets.)
The other side of the table, the ten-plus other healers were facing us on low benches. About half were wearing fairly snappy uniforms of blue pants (or skirt) and white shirt with Association insignia in their epaulettes. The words “Salvation Army” did pop into my mind. The rest of them were wearing “normal” Mozambican dress– that is, informal Western-style dress for the guys; pretty African-style dresses for the women. One uniformed guy, a loquacious spokesman, held some kind of a carved stick in one hand and a cellphone in the other.
Previously, I had dug out a copy of one of my Boston Review articles to give them– an offering of some of my expertise in return for some of theirs.
Now, Salomao placed the meticais ceremoniously on top of my article, telling our hosts that I wanted to help them preserve their traditions and perhaps help them buy some paint to re-paint their headquarters.
The placing of this offering on the table was a cause for loud expressions of jubilation. (I think it was the money that caused this, not the article.) One of the women ululated briefly. Others clapped. Everyone broke into broad smiles. Salomao explained that they had said that the fact of my having made the donation– I think everyone knew it was not a large one– meant that I was respecting their way of doing things.
We were, however, near the end of the meeting. Everyone was very friendly as S took a couple of photos and as we all made our farewells…
I haven’t actually written anything here yet about the CONTENT of what the healers had talked about. As with Sengulane– or as with the traditional healer who was part of the group we met with in Bela Vista yesterday– this group also had some really powerful insights. At one point, Marais (the loquacious one) explained that all black people here know well that if a person is coming home from war, then his father should consult a healer and make sure that the right ceremonies are performed on the returning one before he even comes into the house. These ceremonies involve speaking with the spirits of the ancestors to enlist their help in making sure the transition from warrior to peaceable person is a successful one…
This certainly tracks with evrything else I have learned– primarily from the excellent works by Alcinda Honwana and Carolyn Nordstrom– about the attention that Mozambican traditional healers pay to this particularly sensitive transition in a person’s life (as to many other transitions, too.)
So how is American society going to be dealing with all the warriors who’re going to be landing back on our shores from Iraq, over the months ahead? Do we even recognize that this transition from warrior to “regular” person is a significant one at all?
Today, in Charlottesville, my friends Michele Mattioli, Chip Tucker, and Betsy Tucker, and their friends all had court hearings regarding the sit-in they staged at our local Congressman’s office the day President Bush launched the war against Iraq. I remember that in JWN a couple of days after that, I put in some excrpts from the great statement that Michele had composed in order to explain her participation in (and leadership of) the action. One of the exact points she mentioned there was that the US combatants were all decent people who would be scarred by their participation in fighting and killing… Michele, how right you were.