Saturday, March 16, 2013

Letter from 725 physicians to the UN, on torture un Israel

The Jaradat case as latest example of medical collusion with torture in Israel. Non-response by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to an evidence-based case submitted by physicians from 43 countries.

Dear Professor Mendez/Office of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, 
I write again as convenor of a coalition of 725 physicians from 43 countries presenting a watertight evidence-based case regarding the systematic collusion of individual Israeli physicians, but more importantly the Israeli Medical Association (IMA), with torture as everyday state policy in Israel. As we have noted in previous representations to your Office, we first took our case in 2009 to the World Medical Association (WMA)- who were created precisely to police grave medical ethical matters of this kind- but it became transparently clear over the succeeding 12 months that the WMA was prepared to be in violation of its own mandate when it came to the IMA. Indeed the then WMA (and IMA) President Yoram Blachar vilified us in the press and through London lawyers issued a formal notice of intention to sue me as convenor for libel! The WMA will speak out about alleged medical violations in some countries but not where Israel is concerned, regardless of the evidence. This is a form of corruption which we have been respectfully asking you to examine at the same time. 
Once it was clear that the WMA is not fit for purpose, we saw it as essential to bring matters to the attention of your Office, encouraged too that the UN had tasked you in 2009 to focus on the issue of medical complicity with torture- precisely our case. We first sent the dossier to your Office in 2010, during the tenure as Rapporteur of Dr Manfred Nowak, re-sent it in late 2010 to you as the new Rapporteur, and several times since- the last being on 16 July 2012. We have used the email your Office created so that cases could be reported to you->  but last year also copied the dossier to your email academic address. We have received no word, not even acknowledgement of receipt, bar an email in 2011 asking for the material to be sent (in fact, re-sent) which we received 24 hours after we had emailed you a British Medical Journal article describing the first 2 years of our campaign. This article named your Office as having not responded to us (see attachment bmj 5223). Since then we have heard nothing, and we are uncertain whether this means you have made a decision not to touch us in any circumstances. If so, we would appreciate a response to this effect, with a reason. 
I also attach a report in the Lancet from this week. The case of Arafat Jaradat, which is scarcely 2 weeks old, exactly captures the issue. Israeli authorities confirmed that an Israeli doctor or doctors examined this just-detained 30 year old man upon arrival and found him fit and healthy. 2 days later he was dead, having expired during interrogation. What was the purpose of the medical examination, if not to ascertain capacity to withstand an interrogation which the doctor would know perfectly well (such doctors are not outsiders but part of the unit) was going to be accompanied by ill-treatment amounting to torture? 
 We are reminded that in 1993 a 'fitness for interrogation' form came to light, to be signed by an Israeli doctor after examining a Palestinian prisoner, recording medical suitability for torture. The examination of Jaradat is unlikely to have been for any other reason, and the 'Ticking Bombs' report we have previously cited make it crystal clear that this remains established practice (At the time the IMA feigned surprise that such as a 'fitness for interrogation' form existed, and deplored its use - they could hardly do otherwise once it had been reported publicly). As in the Jaradat case the IMA produces a formulaic anti-torture statement when necessary, but the documentary record to which we point can only cast these statements as deeply cynical. As Hadas Ziv of Physicians or Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) - who have supported this campaign- has said,  if Israeli doctors were forbidden to serve in units whose routine output is torture, torture as state policy would collapse. The IMA have been careful not to call for this and have instead vilified PHR-I. The presence of doctors gives license and legitimacy to the torturers, and is intended to.
The evidence we have been citing goes back as far as the 1996 Amnesty International paper entitled: '"Under constant medical supervision". Torture, ill-treatment and health professionals in Israel and the Occupied Territories (see the references under the original letter signed by 725 physicians). Amnesty were being ironic in using the title "Under constant medical supervision", this being a reference to the claim made at the time by Israeli authorities in supposed defence of Israeli prison conditions and prisoner rights following public allegations about ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian detainees. As Amnesty noted, this was an unintended admission of the central role of doctors in the whole process!

To us it seems that if the evidence for medical complicity in Israel was not to be deemed sufficiently compelling, no evidence in any comparable case ever could be. What then would the international medical ethical codes governing the behaviour of doctors be worth in practice - notably the anti-torture WMA Declaration of Tokyo which mandate doctors not just not to participate in torture, but to speak out and protest whenever they encounter or suspect they encounter it. 
We remain expectant of a response from your Office, as do many other observers inside and outside the medical profession. As before I am copying this to the editors of the Lancet and British Medical Journal. I will also re-send again today the whole dossier, separate from this letter. Perhaps you could start with the Jaradat case. 
Yours sincerely 
Dr Derek Summerfield 
Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, University of London 
Convenor, on behalf of 724 physician signatories. 
13 March 2013.