Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Medical Workers & Torture - Much Ado About Nothing

The New York Times has an article up called, "Report Outlines Medical Workers’ Role in Torture," which gives details about medical workers supposed actions during CIA interrogations. Basically the report finds that they did nothing wrong. Well, actually the Red Cross report calls their actions a "gross breach of medical ethics." But if you read the given examples, that conclusion appears pretty illogical, and based on nothing more than general opposition to torture.

Leaving aside that fact that the report itself is actually based on interviews with prisoners -- as if we are supposed to take their statements at face value -- the examples of medical worker participation in interrogations simply demonstrate that they did their jobs.

medical professionals working for the C.I.A. monitored prisoners undergoing waterboarding, apparently to make sure they did not drown...Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, told investigators that when he was waterboarded, his pulse and oxygen level were monitored, and that a medical attendant stopped the procedure on several occasions....Another prisoner...said that when he was forced for days to stand with his arms shackled above his head, a health worker periodically measured the swelling in his intact leg and eventually ordered that he be allowed to sit.

The report ignores the obvious fact that if torture is conducted, medical personnel are necessary to monitor the health of the prisoners -- otherwise some may die before they can be fully interrogated. It's unclear from the article, but apparently the medical workers involved were CIA employees and therefore doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing during these interrogations.

The report essentially takes the position that since torture is defacto wrong, therefore any involvement by medical workers constitutes a breach of medical ethics. This is a weak argument for anyone who disagrees with the assumed premise about torture. For those of us on that side, who are more concerned with U.S. security than with whether a few terrorists were tortured, the only thing wrong here is that details of a secret CIA program have been compromised, and that individuals like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed are still alive to be treated as some sort of victims by the Red Cross, rather than long dead following their well-deserved executions.

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