FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Doctors Who Torture

by Dr. CESAR CHELALA

Buenos Aires

Last July at the Libertad (Freedom) prison in Uruguay was unusual. Miguel Angel Estrella, an Argentine pianist (and now Argentina’s Ambassador to UNESCO), was giving a concert in the same prison where he had been imprisoned and tortured 32 years earlier.

He dedicated the concert to the 50 inmates currently imprisoned. After he was liberated, Estrella had testified against Dolcey Britos, a psychologist who had masterminded the psychological torture of prisoners at Libertad.

Estrella was liberated thanks to an unprecedented international campaign on his behalf. A friend since my youth, he told me in New York about the ordeal he went through while he was a prisoner in Uruguay. A professional pianist, he was subjected to a most unusual and frightening punishment. He was beaten repeatedly on his hands and threatened with amputation, a spiritual death for a pianist.

He told me: “They [the torturers] concentrated on my hands like sadists. They applied electricity under my nails, without stopping and later they hung me from my arms. After two days of torture I hurt all over, and didn’t have any sensation left in my hands. I touched things and didn’t feel anything.

“The last time I was tortured they threatened to cut off my hands with an electric saw, saying, ‘We are going to chop off your hands, finger by finger, and then we are going to kill you, as the Chileans killed Víctor Jara [a famous Chilean folk singer and guitar player who was killed after being tortured, his hands repeatedly smashed before his death]‘.”

The goal of Estrella’s torture was to break him psychologically, to destroy his self-esteem and his hope. Such a carefully orchestrated torture raises the question of how health professionals — including psychologists and psychiatrists — could have participated in it.

When questioned by Dr. Maxwell Gregg Bloche, an American physician and lawyer who investigated the role of Uruguayan military physicians for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Britos claimed that his role was only that of “diagnostic consultant” to the psychiatrist in the prison.

Estrella, despite all his suffering, was lucky. He survived and is now an internationally known pianist, humanitarian and Argentina’s Ambassador to UNESCO. This is not the case for thousands who are still tortured while in prison, in some cases with the collusion of medical personnel.

It is now known that both German and Japanese doctors killed thousands of people under the excuse that they were conducting medical research. The Nuremberg tribunal of war crimes brought to trial 23 German defendants, some of them physicians, who were accused of crimes involving experimentation on human subjects.

Aside from using human beings to conduct experiments, there are several ways in which medical personnel participate in torture. They range from assessing the prisoner’s health status before initiating torture to determining how much longer it is possible to continue with torture without endangering the prisoners’ survival.

It also involves reviving prisoners who have been made unconscious by pain and punishment, and actively participating in the interrogation process. That professionals who are trained to do everything in their power to alleviate suffering would instead contribute to carrying out torture is one of the most tragic perversions of the medical mandate.

It is a fundamental problem in medical ethics. In the case of physicians, their participation in torture is one of most blatant violations of basic tenets established some 2,500 years ago by Hippocrates.

What is the psychology behind doctors’ participation in torture?

Richard Goldstein and Patrick Breslin offered one explanation: “Most physicians involved in torture seem to be caught up in vast government machines and descend gradually into the torture chamber, propelled by a combination of fear, weakness and self-delusion that is all too depressingly human.”

Norberto Liwsky, an Argentine physician who had been abducted by the Argentine military and who was tortured with the complicity of a medical colleague named Héctor Jorge Vidal, told me, “No one participates in torture without first going through a process of justifying unethical values, even before he enters the torture chamber.”

Whatever the explanation, however, it doesn’t diminish its terrible consequences or the horror of the act itself. Medical associations worldwide need to be more vocal in their condemnation if this sad phenomenon has the possibility of being eliminated.

Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 28, 2017
Diana Johnstone
Macron’s Mission: Save the European Union From Itself
Jordon Kraemer
The Cultural Anxiety of the White Middle Class
Vijay Prashad
Modi and Trump: When the Titans of Hate Politics Meet
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Efforts to Hide Palestinians From View No Longer Fools Young American Jews
Ron Jacobs
Gonna’ Have to Face It, You’re Addicted to War
Jim Lobe – Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio
Is Trump Blundering Into the Next Middle East War?
Radical Washtenaw
David Ware, Killed By Police: a Vindication
John W. Whitehead
The Age of No Privacy: the Surveillance State Shifts into High Gear
Robert Mejia, Kay Beckermann and Curtis Sullivan
The Racial Politics of the Left’s Political Nostalgia
Tom H. Hastings
Courting Each Other
Winslow Myers
“A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind”
Leonard Peltier
The Struggle is Never for Nothing
Jonathan Latham
Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in an Animal Feed Supplement
Deborah James
State of Play in the WTO: Toward the 11th Ministerial in Argentina
Andrew Stewart
Health Care for All: Why I Occupied Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Office
Binoy Kampmark
The European Commission, Google and Anti-Competition
Jesse Jackson
A Savage Health Care Bill
Jimmy Centeno
Cats and Meows in L.A.
June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail