. "Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment." International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies: Proceedings - Symposium and Seventh Biennial Meeting, London, May 18-20, 2005. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006.
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International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies
Elizabeth Hodgkin – I work for Amnesty International. One thing I want to ask about is the role of medical organizations in acting proactively or taking action about doctors’ interrogation centers. We had a lot of discussions with the Israeli Medical Association, which wasn’t taking much of a role in stopping doctors from participating in interrogations. They were not exactly participating in interrogation sessions, but examining detainees before they were interrogated.
Bloche – A great example is the Chilean Medical Association during the Pinochet regime, when its leaders took great risks. We Americans haven’t done so well. The American Medical Association (AMA) simply has not come out with any sort of denunciation of this. There was a limpid letter by the AMA President in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine in response to our article on medical involvement in interrogation. We tried to point out in our response how limpid it was. That was disappointing to us.
Rodley – National medical associations from time to time have behaved well. The Mauritanian one did, in refusing to allow their members to participate in amputations, for example. There is nothing at the international level. There has been international level stuff, including at the World Medical Association, to protect doctors who comply with medical ethics, but nothing to discipline doctors who don’t comply. I think there is a serious gap.
Bloche – After 1979, General Zia, the dictator of Pakistan, enacted an Islamic law including requirements for amputation. The Pakistani Medical Association got together and successfully organized an embargo of medical involvement in these procedures. The AMA, by contrast, according to a couple of sources that we have spoken to, told us that they don’t want to be too harsh on this because they don’t want to alienate the Bush administration vis-à-vis medical tort reform and keeping medical reimbursement rates under our Medicare program rising.
Question – [inaudible] I am a human rights lawyer in London. You raised an interesting point about semantics. The issue of setting a precedent or setting an example is being raised. The actions of the Americans set a very dangerous example.
Rodley – It has been raised by many commentators, and you’ve heard it stated in this room by many. The United States, people say, holds itself out as an authority, as a beacon, so if they backslide, that can have an effect on others. First, the United States is a superpower, and international law is made up by states. What the superpowers say and do is really quite important for the content of international law. Second, they have serious influence, so what is good for the U.S. goose may also be good for some poor tin pot dictatorship’s gander. That is very much a part of the problem; you’re quite right.
Marino Protti – I am from the National Academy of Sciences of Costa Rica. Is there any international interest in changing or rewording the Geneva Convention on Torture to close the doors that the United States is using, or is it not needed because it is obvious that they are just playing with semantics?
Rodley – The problem is that it is not as simple as that. Who is going to be doing the rewording? It is the states themselves. International law is created by states. What is happening now is that