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Biko to Guantanamo: 30 years of medical involvement in torture


With 30 years having passed since the death of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in the custody of South African Police, Correspondence in this week's edition of the Lancet draws strong parallels between the Biko case and the ongoing role of US military doctors in Guantanamo Bay.

Initially, the South African Minister of Justice suggested Biko had died of a hunger strike; however, an inquest revealed that he had died of the consequences of head injuries sustained during the police interrogation, and identified gross inadequacies in the medical treatment from the two doctors responsible for his care -- Benjamin Tucker and Ivor Lang.

In the Correspondence, a group of six doctors, on behalf of 260 other signatories from around the world, discuss the accusations of force-feeding of hunger strikers in Guantanamo and other ethical abuses in the War on Terror, and point out that, despite lack of action by American authorities, the Royal College of Physicians, UK, concluded that “In England, this would be a criminal act."

The doctors say: "No health-care worker has been charged or convicted of any significant offence despite numerous instances documented including fraudulent record keeping on detainees who have died as a result of failed interrogations.

"We suspect that the doctors in Guantanamo and elsewhere have made the same mistake as Tucker, who, in 1991, in expressing remorse and seeking reinstatement, said "I had gradually lost the fearless independence and become too closely identified with the organs of the State, especially the police force." I have come to realise that a medical practitioner's first responsibility is the wellbeing of his patient, and that a medical practitioner cannot subordinate his patient's interest to extraneous considerations."

The Correspondence concludes: "The attitude of the US medical establishment appears to be one of 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.'"


For accompanying correspondence:

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