There have been many millenarian predictions that the full horror of George Orwell’s “1984” have finally come to bear in our society. We can point to various periods in history where our freedoms have been negated and the duty to always uphold human rights waived by our own governments.
I am in little doubt that when history casts its oh-so-critical eye back over the period we are currently living through, “The Age of ‘Terror’ ” could be a very appropriate label, our children and grandchildren will be dismayed at the level of institutional abuse, restrictions on freedoms, and flouting of human rights that we allowed. Comparisons with McCarthyism, and maybe even Nazism at the extreme, will surely be made and they will not be wholly inaccurate.
You don’t have to search extensively to see these abuses in action – Guantanamo Bay, Extraordinary Rendition, the Patriot Act, and the use of military drones. Undoubtedly, in adapting to a world where Facebook, Google and other internet based resources have unprecedented access to much of our personal information, there are areas where our rights need to be redefined. It is through the “War on Terror”, though, where we have most obviously witnessed the re-emergence of “1984-ist” fears.
It now appears that the US medical profession bears an element culpability in this.
“Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror” is a report recently published by a task force comprising an independent panel of military, ethics, medical, public health, and legal experts and it contains disturbing revelations about the role of medical professionals in the torture of terror suspects. This two-year study found that medical staff, mainly doctors and psychologists, in National Security Detention Centers played a key role in “designing, participating in, and enabling torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of detainees. In doing so, they actively and knowingly broke their Hippocratic Oath and ethical code, which includes, to do no harm to patients.
Among the accusations cited are that doctors and psychologists broke doctor-patient confidentiality to share medical information about detainees with interrogators; did not report incidents of prisoner abuse; and consulted on ways to make interrogation methods more successful with sensory deprivation and stress positions.
Moreover, medical professionals also participated in the force-feeding of hunger strikers, a direct breach of both constitutional law and the World Medical Associations “Tokyo Declaration”, and an act considered as torture by the UN Human Rights Commission.
The blame for these actions does not lie solely with the medical professionals themselves, although they must assume a great degree of responsibility. The report also proportions significant responsibility to the US Department of Defense and the CIA who were directly responsible for, amongst other wrongdoings, implementing rules that permitted violations of medical ethical codes and required physicians and nurses to forgo their independent medical judgment and counseling roles.
One day, maybe, there will be justice for the violations committed by the people who lead our, supposed, liberal and transparent democracies. For now, we must not just turn a blind eye to these issues and try to support their just resolution.