I have been reading the Dish for several years now and I applaud your continued persistence regarding our country’s need to dismantle the policies that have been created to allow our government to torture people – and to hold accountable those who created these policies and those who tortured. As a former Army physician who was proud of my prior service in Afghanistan (once) and Iraq (twice), I am now dismayed. Every man and woman I served with in combat-support hospitals and forward surgical teams treated all patients – U.S. or coalition soldiers, local civilians, or enemies who wanted us dead – with decency and compassion. The wounded were all injured human beings worthy of respect and care, regardless of who they were.
This latest report sickens me as much as the Abu Ghraib photos sickened me.
The failure of military medical personnel at GTMO not only denigrates my service, it colors all of us. Regardless of the honor in our service, history may color us with the same brush that these health professionals are colored. The footnote – that those who allowed torture of human beings under their very noses were a relatively small number of health professionals among hundreds of honorable ones – will be lost with time. None of us should feel clean while this goes on.
Our reader's point about providing one standard of care is illustrated in a 2005 report on the ethical quandaries that medical personnel faced in Iraq:
Army Col. Olga Rodriguez, RN, chief nurse of the 228th Combat Support Hospital (CSH) that was stationed in Mosul, Iraq, for a year, says at any given time 80% of the patients in the hospital were non-U.S. service members. … The mandate from the Army Medical Department and the Department of Defense is that all Iraqi patients receive the same level and quality of care as any U.S. service member, says Rodriguez [.]
Providing care to Iraqi civilians, some of whom might be insurgents, sometimes causes ethical conflicts for military nurses. The instinct of a military nurse might be to provide care for a U.S. soldier first, but that response is inappropriate if a civilian patient’s condition is more urgent. … Navy Cmdr. Cheryl R. Ruff, RN, a nurse in Iraq during the first months of the war, says patients who medical personnel first thought were Iraqi civilians sometimes turned out to be [enemy prisoners of war]. “We treated a lot of EPWs,” Ruff says.
Another reader writes:
Your post brought to mind more than simply the troubling acquiescence of some in the medical community to the torture regime implemented there. There is a broader question: what about all of the service people at Gitmo and what happens to them when they are separated from the service?
How do we integrate men and women desensitized to torture and the abuse of human rights back into society as a whole? Do former guards and interrogators go out and join law enforcement agencies, as so many ex-military do? How do they reintegrate their military experience into their civilian responsibilities? If they become FBI agents or police officers, can they put aside their experience in the torture regime and operate within civilian law?
The true crime of the torture regime is not, it seems to me, the horror that it perpetrates on our prisoners – as terrible as that certainly is. The true crime is what it does to all the military and civilians exposed to it and the weakening of the surface commitment to human rights that keeps a society like ours civil and democratic. Those willing to torture to protect the state will always be willing to take extra measures to protect the state – or the state as they see it.