Torture and Public Health

In Michael Boylan (ed.), International Public Health Policy and Ethics. Springer Verlag. pp. 75-106 (2023)
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Abstract

In this chapter, I examine the ways in which “harsh interrogationInterrogation” methods, such as indefinite detention, hooding, use of vicious brutality (such as the use of dogs), and force-feedingForce feeding, function as acts of tortureTorture. Although singularly they may only be “abusive,” when used together or in tandem (“clustering”), they cross the line into torture. TortureTorture is an issue of public moralityMorality. My focus is on the role of medical professionals who have enabled torture by standing by, keeping silent, or actively participating in the abuse of detaineesDetainees. To understand how this occurs, we need to look at the context and the ways the language as well as the practice have an effect. For example, there is widespread use of euphemisms; e.g., “stress positions,” “sleep adjustment,” “takeout,” and “waterboardingWaterboarding” to create a climate of acceptance. Key medical associations such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the World Medical Association have issued declarations prohibiting doctorsDoctors from participating and calling for them to step forward. However, we must go beyond whistle-blowers taking personal risks, however commendable, and, thus, put in place scaffolding to make it easier to report and investigate suspected abuse or torture. I set out guidelines for doing so in my essay.

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