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By Heather Mac Donald
ExposÚs of professional complicity in "torture" are undoubtedly just around the corner, now that the New England Journal of Medicine has condemned the participation of doctors in terrorist interrogations.
M. Gregg Bloche, a medical ethicist at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, and Jonathan H. Marks, a biological anthropologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, announce in the January 6 issue of the Journal that doctors who oversaw detainee interrogations "breached the laws of war" and probably engaged in "torture."
This accusation echoes an earlier complaint by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The press has gleefully picked up the story as more proof of detainee torture.
Bloche and Marks provide little backing for this last claim. The interrogators I have spoken to are unaware of any such involvement and say that the doctors at Guantanamo confined themselves exclusively to overseeing medical care.
Psychiatrists were involved with interrogators, however, advising on detainees' mental states. They might inform intelligence officers that Ahmed was crazy as a loon, and would not be responsive to interrogation, or that Khalid was too emotionally fragile for questioning without Zoloft, or that Zacarias was faking his mental disability.
The military began experimenting with such "stress techniques" only after it became clear that traditional Army methods of questioning lawful prisoners of war, which play on homely emotions such as pride or homesickness, were ineffective in getting war on terror detainees to talk.
The stress methods aimed to increase a detainee's sense of uncertainty about the interrogator's limits, and thus to persuade him to cooperate. They did not seek to produce pain or harm.
If an authorized interrogation had injured a detainee, and it came out that interrogators had ignored his medical history, the human rights advocates would undoubtedly have accused the Bush administration of medical malpractice and neglect as vociferously as they are now accusing medical professionals of complicity in torture.
The alleged "undermining of trust" that the authors predict does not, in any case, seem to have had an adverse effect: The prisoners received better medical care than ever before in their lives; they gained weight, and were treated for longstanding ailments.
One detainee received half a million dollars worth of surgery to correct a childhood deformity. After the operation, interrogators approached him to ask if maybe now he'd be willing to cooperate. "Death to America!" was the only response.
The goal of detainee operations has always been humane treatment; the bureaucracy that quickly evolved in Guantanamo Bay and the Pentagon to guard against abuse was mind-boggling in its complexity. That oversight mechanism broke down completely in Abu Ghraib, under the pressures of the Iraqi insurgency, to the eternal shame of the military.
The real agenda behind the media's torture narrative, which holds that the abuse of detainees was systemic and the inevitable result of denying Geneva Convention coverage to terrorists, is to delegitimate interrogation.
Bloche and Marks object to any participation of doctors in crafting interrogation plans. That objection would be understandable if torture were involved. But keeping a terror suspect up past his bedtime for questioning is not torture.
©2005 New York Post
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