MILES, Steven H. OATH BETRAYED: America´s Torture Doctors. 2009. U. Of California Press, USA.

“Many people are only dimly aware of the United States´ disastrous complicity with torturing regimes in El Salvador, Batista´s Cuba, Chile, Iran, South Vietnam, Guatemala, Argentina, Saddam Hussein´s Iraq, of Shah Reza Pahlavi´s Iran. Some people are so deeply estranged from the reality of torture that they simply denied that any torture could have occurred in Iraq, in Afghanistan or at Guantanamo Bay.”

Oath Betrayed by Steven H. Miles: A Book Review by Theresa Wolfwood

Photo from Abu Ghraib, reproduced in book.

Denial that our citizens could be torturing others or abetting in torture is common in Canada as well as the USA. Medical involvement in torture and cruelty is something we think of as history – as in the Nazi Germany era. But Miles, a physician and professor at the University of Minnesota, USA, studied 60,000 pages of documents to make his case; USA doctors and other medical personnel are complicit and cooperative in torture by the USA government and military. The main evidence comes from Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Kandahar (where Canadian personnel have been implicated.)

The Geneva Convention on Torture states in Part I, Article 1

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity…

It is clear that the details and photographs in Oath Betrayed are of torture as defined by international agreement. They are horrific – this is not a pleasant book to read. It is hard to comprehend how people could do such terrible things to other people and hard to believe that those in the ´healing professions´ could condone torture. But Miles´ intensive investigation shows, as he said in a speech in Victoria in late 2010, that the torture was not random or just the initiative of a few workers in the prisons but it is a policy and directive from the highest levels of government the USA Presidential cabinet.

His research is carefully documented in appendices as well he documents the official position of profession groups in the USA and the Nuremburg Code for conduct of scientific procedures. Torture, he writes, is not a popular cause in civil society; perhaps the dehumanization of the enemy, the “other”, helps to justify tacit acceptance by citizens in whose name this cruelty is inflicted. Politicians avoid the issue. Some countries have banned torture – political power changes as in El Salvador and torture is no longer government policy. But many countries still practise this form of barbarism.

Canada´s maybe next Prime Minister openly favours it; our present Prime minister refuses to be honest about Canada´s role in torture in Afghanistan; Canada supports countries like Israel that routinely tortures Palestinian prisoners. Miles calls on medical societies to take action on torture and their professionals who are complicit in this betrayal of their Hippocratic Oath; he also directs citizen to investigate and act through the many respected international human rights organizations that document torture. And we can all pressure our own governments to end their part in perpetuating and supporting a barbaric treatment that should be stopped everywhere it is committed by anyone or any government.

If treatment of the helpless and powerless is the measure of a society, then most, including our own, fail that measure miserably.

Filed under Book Reviews, Steven H. Miles