Doctors who do harm. What will happen to those who designed the torture methods?

Amidst the CIA taking the central role as the perpetrator for the torture committed under the ‘War on Terror’, one particular question has been forgotten: what will happen to the people who actually designed the torture methods?

CIA emblem

CIA emblem

Recent spin and simplification lumps the CIA as the overwhelming perpetrator of all the torture against terror suspects. Without understating CIA’s role in this — CIA operatives mercilessly implemented the torture techniques documented today in the upcoming CIA torture report and through the continued allegations emerging from those victims who survived CIA ‘black sites’ in particular — it must be remembered that the network involved in the torture of suspects is far-reaching.

Behind the torture is a methodology, a design to break even the most resilient individual. Behind the design is calculated thought, professionally planned actions that inflict the maximum level of pain and suffering while minimising identifiable scars and traces.

And behind this thinking are doctors.

It has long been documented by a range of media outlets that US military doctors were complicit in the design of torture methods, clearly violating their ethical, medical and legal codes as health practitioners.

A report from the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in November 2013 states that after 9/11, health professionals aligned with the military and intelligences authorities participated in the production and implementation of “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees”.

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of  Isabel Esterman)

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of Isabel Esterman)

Yet many of these doctors will simply never face trial. Regardless of whether doctors were coerced or tricked into the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ processes, justice still needs to be served.

It’s a concern echoed by Vincent Iacopino, Senior Medical Advisor for Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and member of IRCT’s Independent Forensic Expert Group, in a recent letter to the Editor of the New York Times.

“Before lawyers wrote memos distorting the definition of torture, psychologists worked in concert with interrogators to develop methods intended to exploit the vulnerabilities of detainees and to inflict physical and mental pain,” says Mr Iacopino in the letter.

He continues: “As detainees suffered — and in some cases, died — health professionals routinely failed to report, document or stop the abuse.”

In doing so, they betrayed the core ethical principle of health professionals: do no harm. They also did not question their role. Apathy is apparent in the instance of US psychologist James Mitchell, who was instrumental in designing the torture techniques. Speaking in April 2014 he said the following:

“I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.” (quoted in Russia Today)

It is the Milgrim experiment CIA-style: the infamous study which showed people are far more likely to inflict pain on another human being if someone in perceived higher authority delivers the orders.

This is wrong and shocking. The doctors who are meant to heal contributed to the harm.

When the truth about the CIA torture methods comes to light, hopefully perpetrators will be brought to justice. Those who inflicted the pain must be punished for their crimes and victims, who are still alive, should be directed to the appropriate channels of rehabilitation and redress.

Yet punishment needs to extend beyond those ordering the torture and those following the orders. Behind the programme against human rights are doctors who designed the methods. These people are perpetrators too.

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