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In a comprehensive recent study, Physicians for Human Rights alleges that healthcare professionals experimented on human subjects in order to hone the torture techniques authorized by the Bush Administration. The Department of Justice’s retracted torture memoranda advise that doctors should be involved at every stage in the application of torture techniques—to provide a defense against criminal prosecution. And anecdotal evidence suggests that healthcare professionals were regularly present, sometimes in the torture room and sometimes offsite observing remotely. But the involvement of healthcare professionals in such practices is a violation of rules of medical ethics, and the Bush and Obama Administrations have kept the identities of those involved rigorously secret.
Now, however, two doctors who stood in the forefront of Guantánamo torture accusations are the subject of detailed, well-documented challenges filed by law students and professors at Stanford and Harvard Universities, backed by medical ethicists. In the crosshairs are two leaders of the celebrated Guantánamo “biscuit” teams that helped guide the harsh treatment of prisoners there:
Maj. John Francis Leso, an army psychologist who from June 2002 to January 2003 led the Gitmo BSCT involved in Qahtani’s interrogation. The complaint accuses Leso, who is licensed in New York, of “gross incompetence,” “gross negligence,” and “conduct exhibiting a moral unfitness to practice the profession.” According to the document, Leso “used his training in psychology to design interrogation techniques that manipulate the psychological condition of a detainee, induce Stockholm syndrome in the detainee, and modify the detainee’s behavior.”
[and] retired army Col. Larry James, Leso’s onetime boss at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, who succeeded him at Guantanamo Bay and went on to become the chief behavioral scientist at Abu Ghraib prison. The Harvard group, on behalf of four clients, is going after James’ license in Ohio—he is also credentialed in Louisiana, where the state psychology board’s refusal to investigate an ethics complaint sparked a legal battle. (This week’s actions follow a complaint last month in Texas. In that case, lawyers representing a Texas psychologist targeted James Elmer Mitchell, a CIA-contracted psychologist who took part in brutal interrogations—these included the questioning of Abu Zubaydah, a detainee who was waterboarded at least 83 times in a single month at a secret Thai prison.)
Curiously, the most damning evidence against James comes in his own book, Fixing Hell, an account of his mission to “clean up” Guantánamo.
The complaints start with a contention that the doctors will no doubt vigorously contest: that as physicians they owed a duty of care to the prisoners who were in their care. The U.S. military has consistently, though with no ethical or legal justification, taken the position that the prisoners were subjects that the doctors were entitled to study but to whom they owed no ethical duty of care—a posture that reflects the fairly obvious proposition that their conduct violated the clear rules governing doctor-patient dealings.
These cases present the professional ethics oversight bodies with a clear dilemma. They can do what the government wants and look the other way–usually by saying that the government’s noncooperation makes action impossible. Or they can actually enforce their ethics rules. So far ethics bodies in California, Louisiana, Ohio, and Alabama have consistently taken the coward’s way out. Now, however, they have been presented with far more detailed and professionally compiled complaints that make such a course more difficult.
Daniel Shulman offers a good discussion of the cases at Mother Jones.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”