“Do No Harm”: Dr. Steven Miles on the Subject of Doctors and Torture

StreckbettBy Elaine Magliaro

Julie Beck has an interesting interview with Dr. Steven Miles on the subject of doctors being involved with the torture of people over at The Atlantic. Dr. Miles is a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a board member of the Center for Victims of Torture. He is the author of Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors. Beck said that Dr. Miles has been studying the involvement of doctors in torture programs since 2003–when the “photos of the human rights violations at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to light…” He maintains Doctorswhotorture.com–a website that “tracks physician standards of conduct and punishments for doctors who aid torture around the world.”

Beck wrote about the release of the Senate’s report on the CIA’s interrogation program, which revealed “horrendous details of the torture tactics used on prisoners, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and ‘rectal feeding.’” She said, “Complicit in this treatment were several ‘medical officers’ (it’s not explicitly stated whether they hold M.D.s), who enabled, oversaw, and designed many of the techniques.” Beck noted that “medical officers and physicians’ assistants are cited throughout the report as consultants who advised on things like forcing detainees to stand on broken limbs and “rehydrating” via a rectal tube rather than a standard IV infusion.” She made mention of Dr. James Mitchell and Dr. Bruce Jessen–two psychologists who worked as “interrogation” advisers for the CIA. Mitchell and Jessen designed the CIA interrogation program. They received $81 million for their services.

(NOTE: Last Tuesday, I wrote a a post about Dr. James Mitchell and Dr. Bruce Jessen. Click here to read it.)

Excerpt from Beck’s interview with Dr. Miles:

Julie Beck: What role did doctors play in this CIA-mandated torture, and how integral was it?

Steven Miles: What’s new here is the CIA side. The role of doctors in torture during the War on Terror has been pretty well excavated on the Defense Department side, but the CIA [has some exemptions] from Freedom of Information Act requests, so that’s remained hidden. Essentially the doctors and psychologists were built in to the entire torture system. They weren’t simply bystanders who were called in to respond when the system went off the rails. Some doctors apparently protested this. But they kept their protests inside [the CIA], they never went outside, which they should have done when they saw these types of abuses.

In general, doctors in torture have a couple roles. Number one, they design methods of torture that do not leave scars. For example, the so-called “rectal feeding” which is actually a medieval technique in which the intestines are inflated with a viscous material to cause intestinal pain. The docs are also involved in making sure that the prisoners who weren’t supposed to die didn’t die. The third thing doctors do is they falsify medical records and death certificates to conceal the injuries of torture. [Ed.: Miles has written on this in the context of Abu Ghraib.]

Beck: When we’re talking about how integral it was, is the medical knowledge that doctors bring to these operations something interrogation programs could not do without? If every doctor in the world refused to participate, would they be out of luck?

Miles: There are two answers to this question. One is, doctors get the prisoners that the Red Cross never sees. So in a sense doctors are frontline human-rights monitors who get into places where regular human rights groups can’t go. Number two, there are a set of professional codes, that are endorsed by the American Medical Association and the World Medical Association, that describe doctor’s duties not only to avoid participating in torture, directly or indirectly, but also a duty to document it and to report it, going outside the chain of command if necessary.

As human rights groups have put additional pressure on regimes around the world with regard to torture, regimes that are responsive to human rights pressure want to use torture that doesn’t leave scars. So they prefer methods like asphyxiation, isolation, cramming people in small boxes, white rooms with loud noises, because it just destroys people psychologically. Whereas regimes like Assad’s regime [in Syria] don’t really care if there are scars. So there is no role for medicine in that respect in an Assad-type regime or in North Korea’s regime.

 Click here to read ‘Do No Harm’: When Doctors Torture.



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11 Responses to “Do No Harm”: Dr. Steven Miles on the Subject of Doctors and Torture

  1. buckaroo says:

    It is my assumption that the Head Honcho in Syria holds a Medical Degree & did post-grad work in England at a most prestigious institution. Do we consider physicians who work for a government equal to physicians who are self-employed ? Somewhere I recall a saying of “he who pays the fiddler …………….”

  2. rafflaw says:

    It sickens me to read all of the denial over the torture revelations in the Senate Report. The idea that rectal feeding can be considered “medicinal” is not only a lie, it is sickening.

  3. mespo727272 says:

    Those who resort to absurdities in defense of atrocities reveal themselves to be both.

  4. It is hard to go wrong paraphrasing Voltaire, but especially when it is true. Well played, mespo. And seconded.

  5. swarthmoremom says:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/12/the-humane-interrogation-technique-that-works-much-better-than-torture/383698/ “The winning technique, as BPS Research Digest notes, was immediately clear:

    Disclosure was 14 times more likely to occur early in an interrogation when a rapport-building approach was used. Confessions were four times more likely when interrogators struck a neutral and respectful stance. Rates of detainee disclosure were also higher when they were interrogated in comfortable physical settings.”

  6. Anonymously Yours says:

    War crimes plain and simple.

  7. swarthmoremom says:

    https://www.emptywheel.net/2014/12/08/the-debate-about-torture-were-not-having-exploitation/ “Then it raises the really horrible possibility that Cheney pushed torture because it would produce the stories he wanted told. It would be difficult to distinguish whether Cheney believed this stuff and therefore that’s what the torture produced or whether Cheney wanted these stories told and that’s what the torture produced.

    As Steven Kleinman said in an important Jason Leopold and Jeff Kaye story on this subject, the torture CIA used was designed to get false confessions, not accurate information.

    “This is the guidebook to getting false confessions, a system drawn specifically from the communist interrogation model that was used to generate propaganda rather than intelligence,” Kleinman said in an interview. “If your goal is to obtain useful and reliable information this is not the source book you should be using.”

    The people who approved torture had the means of knowing — should have known — it would elicit false confessions. It’s just that no one can prove whether that was the entire point or not.

    In this respect, then, the debate we’ll resume tomorrow is similar to the debate about the phone dragnet, where the government has not fully described the purposes it serves (indeed, in both cases, the government is hiding their use of the program to obtain spies).

    It’s not just a question of whether torture is “effective” at obtaining intelligence. It’s also whether the entire point of it was to produce spies and propaganda.”

  8. Thanks for that last link, Smom. I’m currently working on a new installment in the Propaganda Series and that fits in well with what I’ve got so far.

  9. Crimes against humanity!

    THE war crime was manufacturing a need to go to war…

  10. Pingback: The Guardian Reports That US Torture Doctors Could Possibly Face Charges after Report Alleges Post-9/11 ‘Collusion’ | Flowers For Socrates

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