March 2, 2024

Lancet denounces doctors’ complicity in Abu Ghraib abuse

A photo of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison

Military doctors and medics in Iraq should “protest loudly and refuse cooperation with authorities” if they are aware of “torture and inhumane and degrading practices against detainees”, says one of the world’s leading medical journals, The Lancet, in a stinging editorial.

In its current issue, Dr Steven H. Miles, of the University of Minnesota, highlights the complicity of medical staff in the scandalous events which took place in the Coalition prison. These included “failure to maintain medical records, conduct routine medical examinations and to provide proper care of disabled or injured detainees. Medical personnel and medical information was also used to design and implement psychologically and physically coercive interrogations. Death certificates and medical records were falsified.”

One case illustrates the abandonment of well-recognised principles of medical ethics by US doctors. In November 2003 Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, a former air defence commander, died after his head was pushed into a sleeping bag while interrogators sat on his chest. A surgeon stated that he died of natural causes. Although knowledge of this and other cases of torture and degrading treatment was widespread, no one in the prison’s medical staff blew the whistle on it.

The Lancet concludes that “Abu Ghraib should serve as an eleventh hour wake-up call for the Western world to rediscover and live by the values enshrined in its international treaties and democratic constitutions.”