New Internationalist (UK) - October 2010

Page 9

Teachers and students under attack

5 OCTOBER WORLD TEACHERS DAY

The latest UNESCO report, Education under Attack, reveals that politically and ideologically motivated attacks on students and teachers around the globe are on the rise – three years after the problem was first highlighted.

From 2007 to 2009, the report says, ‘State forces or state-backed forces have either beaten, arrested, tortured, threatened with murder or shot dead students, teachers and/or academics in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Myanmar, Nepal, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe.’

Brendan O’Malley, author of the 2010 report, witnessed first hand the impact of such attacks when he visited a school in Kosovo back in 1999.

‘The school had been shelled and ransacked, but the one thing that seemed to give people hope was that teachers were working without pay to keep lessons going for the children. I was talking to the headteacher when there was a huge thud and the ground shook. I asked what it was. He said: “They are shelling again. They do this every day just to remind us they are there.”’

Healers who harm face investigation

7 OCTOBER AFGHANISTAN

Medics in Afghanistan revealed to be complicit in abuse a g e s

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On the ninth anniversary of the air bombardment of Afghanistan, calls for accountability at US detention centres are finally breaking through, and the role of medical personnel present in interrogation cells is now under scrutiny.

A Physicians for Human Rights report is accusing the Bush administration of conducting illegal and unethical human experiments on prisoners in CIA custody. In July, the American Psychological Association supported an attempt to remove the licence of a psychologist accused of overseeing the torture of a CIA detainee. Dr James Mitchell, a retired US Air Force psychologist, is alleged to have taken part in the interrogation and waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah in Thailand in 2002. Clinicians have also veered into the ethics debate. In his book Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror, Professor of Medicine Dr Steven Miles asks: where were the doctors when detainees were being abused?

Dr Miles recounts the story of Dilawar, a 22-year-old Afghan taxi driver tortured to death by US soldiers at Bagram Air Base in December 2002. In five days of severe beatings he received no medical input. He was promised a doctor but instead was hung from the ceiling in his cell for hours. A doctor eventually found him dead.

There followed a fiasco on the cause of death, resulting in the issue of numerous death certificates, the first of which cited natural causes. The Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner held back its autopsy report, which would later refute the ‘natural causes’ claim. ViceAdmiral Albert T Church, appointed by Donald Rumsfeld in 2004 to conduct an inquiry into detainee interrogations, identified Dilawar’s death as one in which medical personnel attempted to conceal prisoner abuse.

Personal testimonies of former detainees also give an insight into the degree of medical complicity in abuse.

Tarek Dergoul, a British resident held at Bagram, Kandahar and later Guantánamo, is one of many. Caught up in a US air strike in Afghanistan, he sustained injuries to his left arm which led to an amputation. Four weeks later, he was captured by Afghans and reportedly sold to the Americans for $500, ending up in Bagram. During his five weeks there, Dergoul received only one dose of painkillers – despite constant pleas and obvious discomfort. He even asked British security services personnel, during their questioning of him, to intervene. They didn’t.

A Canadian army medic treats a patient in Afghanistan.

While being dragged by guards along rough terrain, Dergoul, who was wearing sandals, cut his left big toe. The cut became filled with pus and painful. His requests for antibiotics were ignored. Eventually a deep infection formed, requiring another amputation. He recalls a military doctor administering sedation. Although drowsy he remained awake, hearing every part of the amputation tutorial given by her to a junior medic cutting off his toe.

Health professionals who assisted the CIA in mistreatment or experiments will have their own place in history, just like other ‘healers who harm’ before them. But for now, selfregulation and accountability within the medical profession is a priority.

Dr Saleyha Ahsan

New Internationalist ● OCTOBER 2010 ● 9