Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Stain of Torture

This op-ed from Friday's Washington Post is well worth reading. The writer is Dr. Burton Lee, who served as the personal physician of President George H. W. Bush. Consider these words:

Our medical code of ethics requires us to oppose torture wherever it is inflicted, for any reason. Guided by this ethic, I served as a volunteer with the international group MEDICO in 1963, taking care of people who had been tortured by the French during Algeria's civil war. I remain deeply affected by that experience today--by the people I tried to help and could not, and by their families, which suffered the most terrible grief. I heard the victims' stories, examined their permanently broken bodies and looked into faces that could not see me because of the irreparable damage done not only to their senses but also to their brains. As I have studied reports of torture throughout our troubled world since then, I have always found comfort in knowing that at least it did not occur here, not among Americans.

Now that comfort is shattered. Reports of torture by U.S. forces have been accompanied by evidence that military medical personnel have played a role in this abuse and by new military ethical guidelines that in effect authorize complicity by health professionals in ill-treatment of detainees. These new guidelines distort traditional ethical rules beyond recognition to serve the interests of interrogators, not doctors and detainees.

Later in the column, Dr. Lee joins the call for an independent commission to investigate torture in American detention facilities, including Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Such a commission would be a good first step toward the reformation that must occur in our national commitment to human rights.