'Oath Betrayed' Questions Doctors' Roles in Torture In the spring of 2004, when Americans were horrified by the pictures of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, medical-ethics expert Steven Miles had just one question: Where were the doctors? Miles, himself a doctor, has written a book about how the medical profession failed to perform its role as protector.

'Oath Betrayed' Questions Doctors' Roles in Torture

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The writer Steven Miles says, it is not just a few American soldiers who are guilty of torture. Miles writes that the U.S. is a torturing society. He means, we permit torture, rationalize it, cover it up, or just look away.


Steven Miles is a doctor, and he's especially concerned about doctors who are present in almost every U.S. detention center. He studied Army records, FBI notes, autopsy reports and prisoners' medical records, and this morning he joins our conversations about interrogations.

In a book called, Oath Betrayed, Miles said doctors failed in their obligation to do no harm.

Dr. STEVEN MILES (Author and Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota): Doctors and nurses are frontline human rights monitors. They are present in prisons that the Red Cross never gets to, and they are there when other human rights monitors are not.

And even if they don't see the abuses themselves, they see the signs of the abuses. Furthermore, they are trained to detect abuses, even when abuses are designed to be indiscernible. And, so the question that came up with the initial Abu Ghraib photographs, was how come the medical system hadn't blown the whistle on it?

INSKEEP: Why should they have blown the whistle on it?

Dr. MILES: Because the positions' obligation in prisoner camps is to the health of the prisoners. Prisons are totally different from battlefields. These people are outside of combat. They are disarmed and captive, and in those circumstances, the medical system's first obligation is to the health of the captives.

INSKEEP: And what does that mean - that the doctor has to do in a situation like this?

Dr. MILES: There's an obligation to promptly report homicides that are caused by torture. And in fact, what happened was the medical system acted in a way to conceal public knowledge of homicides by torture.

INSKEEP: How were they concealing homicides? Give me an example.

Dr. MILES: What they were doing, for example, there was one guy, Abed Mahoush(ph). His sons were kidnapped, and he went to the prison because the deal was that if he turned himself in, his sons would be released. He was then tortured for approximately 16 days - beaten, he had multiple rib fractures, and he had bruises from head to toe. Finally he was stuffed head first into a sleeping bag and wrapped with 20 feet of wire. An interrogator briefly sat on his chest, and a few minutes later he was dead by asphyxiation.

And Air Force flight surgeon came into the room and was part of the attempt to resuscitate him. Although she was not aware of the sleeping bag, she apparently neglected to note the fact that he was bruised all over the place, which was readily apparent to lay investigators and to the pathologist.

That death certificate and autopsy were concealed by deliberately not being finalized for months after the death, until after the Abu Ghraib pictures came out.

INSKEEP: How can you document each of the sickening acts that you just described in this one case?

Dr. MILES: Well, the trial records are available describing what happened in the room. And the dating of the autopsy documents and the death certificates are available. Plus, I have the investigator's document, which says that he saw bruises all over the body.

INSKEEP: Do you have any sympathy for medical professionals who may have felt divided loyalties in this situation?

Dr. MILES: Medical professionals have a duty to the care of prisoners. And indeed, our country would have been better served had they lived up to that duty. Some people called the Abu Ghraib abusers: the six soldiers who lost the war. We have alienated the entire Islamic world. Physicians and healthcare...

INSKEEP: Although, I mean, forgive, I mean we, although we know that now, but if you're a doctor, you're in that moment. You're in a prison. You're part of the military. You know what the rest of the military seems to be doing. There must be pressure to try to accommodate that in some way if you can.

Dr. MILES: Well, certainly there's pressure. But on the other hand, my colleagues in other countries face really severe risks for engaging in human rights abuses. Dangers of being killed, disappeared, or tortured themselves. And they accept those risks to prevent these abuses.

No U.S. soldier in the medical corps faced any comparable risk to a person protesting or trying to stop human rights abuses in some of the dictatorships around the world.

INSKEEP: Alan Dershowitz...

Dr. MILES: Yeah.

INSKEEP: The well-known lawyer...

Dr. MILES: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Who has argued that...

Dr. MILES: He's wrong.

INSKEEP: Well he's argued that in some cases, torture, much as we may recoil from it, actually has been effective.

Dr. MILES: Torture has never been confined to neural channels. It just hasn't been. You can't find an instance of the selective use of torture. And his torture warrants idea has been tried before, and it has never worked.

INSKEEP: The idea that you go get permission, in the rare instances where you need it.

Dr. MILES: Absolutely. It's been tried repeatedly throughout the entire history of torture, and it has always failed.

The other problem with torture warrants is just the quality of the evidence. One of the intelligence officials I spoke with in Iraq, complained, that when they were doing this torture, what they were doing was getting this bad information. And so we were sending our soldiers out on these very hazardous missions to chase down bad information and alienating the local population when they showed up with harsh measures to disrupt peoples' lives over what was bad information obtained from torture.

INSKEEP: Steven H. Miles is the author of, Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror. Thanks very much.

Dr. MILES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Our conversations about American interrogations continue tomorrow. The journalist Ron Suskind describes the interrogation of the mastermind of the September 11th attacks - Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.

Mr. RON SUSKIND (Journalist): We waterboard him, we threaten him, we torture him, we do everything we can think of, and then we do something that I think may set a standard for how this war on terror is drawing the United States away from some of its moral foundations - we had captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammad's children, and we threatened them. We tell Khalid Sheikh Mohammad either he tells us what we need to know, or his children will be harmed.


We've had many e-mails from you in response to the first conversation in this series. Yesterday, Alan Dershowitz said he wants rules to permit torture, under some conditions. Maria Arrington(ph), of Big Fork, Montana, writes: What has become of us as human beings, that we would even entertain the idea that any type of torture might be condoned? Have we forgotten Auschwitz, or Rwanda, or Pol Pot?

But Sarah Houserman(ph), of Carmel Valley, California, disagrees: In its hypocritical handling of this issue, she writes, our government sends the message that it thinks its citizens are infants. In contrast, Mr. Dershowitz's suggestion treats us like adults. And doggone it, his idea smacks of democracy.

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