from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Bush 41's Physician condemns the torture 

Having served as a doctor in the Army Medical Corps early in my career and as presidential physician to George H.W. Bush for four years, I might be expected to bring a skeptical and partisan perspective to allegations of torture and abuse by U.S. forces. I might even be expected to join those who, on the one hand, deny that U.S. personnel have engaged in systematic use of torture while, on the other, claiming that such abuse is justified. But I cannot do so.

Burton Lee was the presidential physician to George H. W. Bush.  The paragraph above begins his op-ed in today's Washington Post, The Stain Of Torture.   It should be mandatory reading for every member of Congress, every member of an editorial board around the country, and should be as widely distributed to your email lists as possible.  Superbly well written, it is absolutely on point, and from a man who cannot be dismissed as a Democratic or liberal critic of the current president.

I urge you to read the entire article.  I provide a sampling below.

The second paragraph lays it out:

It's precisely because of my devotion to country, respect for our military and commitment to the ethics of the medical profession that I speak out against systematic, government-sanctioned torture and excessive abuse of prisoners during our war on terrorism. I am also deeply disturbed by the reported complicity in these abuses of military medical personnel. This extraordinary shift in policy and values is alien to my concept of modern-day America and of my government and profession.

After describing his high opinion of the military doctors he has known, Lee goes on to say

The military ethics that I know absolutely prohibit anything resembling torture. There are several good reasons for this. Prisoners should be treated as we would expect our prisoners to be treated. Discipline and order in the military ranks depend to a large extent on compliance with the prohibition of torture -- indeed, weak or damaged psyches inclined toward torture or abuse have generally been weeded out of the military, or at the very least given less responsibility. In addition, military leaders have long been aware that torture inflicts lasting damage on both the victim and the torturer. The systematic infliction of torture engenders deep hatred and hostility that transcends generations. And it perverts the role of medical personnel from healers to instruments of abuse.

He worries that the military has unfortunately bowed to pressure of "errant" civilian leadership.  And then he gives the reason he feels so strongly on this issue:

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.  

I want to digress for a moment.  Please note that he was involved in treating victims of French torture in Algeria, toture applied to break an insurgency.  I remember that some of our leaders watched the great film "The Battle of Algiers"" directed by Pontecorvo, released in 1967 (which if you ahven't seen, you should).  The French were able to identify much of the leadership of the opposition, often by using torture, and to kill or arrest them.  And the resistance intensified as a direct result.  And the tactics the French used destroyed much of their moral credibility around the world.  It seems as if Lee recognizes the dangerous precedent we seem to be following.

Lee notes that in the past he had been comforted when reading reports about torture that at least his nation did not engage in such actions, but that current reports not only indicated that we engage in torture, but that medical personnel have been involved. He is especially bothered by the new guidelines which require medical personnel complicity in at least the mistreatment of detainees, noting

These new guidelines distort traditional ethical rules beyond recognition to serve the interests of interrogators, not doctors and detainees.

Lee urges medical professionals to take a stand, to state that torture is not acceptable, and to demand an independent inquiry.  He wants a return to ethical standards that would keep medical personnel from being complicit in such actions.

Lee closes with the following statement:

America cannot continue down this road. Torture demonstrates weakness, not strength. It does not show understanding, power or magnanimity. It is not leadership. It is a reaction of government officials overwhelmed by fear who succumb to conduct unworthy of them and of the citizens of the United States.

As I post this, the time is a bit after 10:45 AM.  Dr. Lee, who is a board member of the group Physicians for Human Rights. will be participating in an online forum in about 2 hours, at the Washington Post.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?