When Dr. Steven Miles saw the notorious photos of torture victims in Abu Ghraib, a few questions kept bothering him: Where was the medical staff in all of this? And why didn’t they report the abuse?
The noted University of Minnesota professor of medicine and bioethics went looking for answers.
“I wanted to understand how the government shut down the medical staff,” he said. “What I found instead was they didn’t. The government built the doctors and the psychologists into the system of interrogational torture throughout the entire War on Terror detention system.”
The ACLU was critical to reaching that understanding. The ACLU filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests against the government that led to reams and reams of documents, including medical records. Those documents were redacted and released through a photocopying process that made it impossible to search the PDFs using text recognition.
Dr. Miles spent two years hand-indexing nearly 70,000 documents, including medical records and death certificates, painstakingly matching detainee deaths with dates and locations. He discovered suspicious things like a young man dying of a heart attack at age 26, unreported deaths, and backdated certificates that violated international law conventions for reporting deaths in war prisons.
“Lawyers know how to read legal documents. It takes a doctor to read a death certificate. It’s a subtle document. Sometimes it’s what’s there, and sometimes, it’s what’s not there,” he said.
Dr. Miles turned his findings into numerous articles, the book "Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror," and a public database at the university’s Human Rights Library.
He hopes that showing how doctors are built into the world’s torture machines will create pressure and increased accountability, and prevent doctors from participating.
This same commitment to human rights and civil liberties, which he’s carried through a career spent helping the marginalized, undergirds his support for ACLU-MN. He serves on the Foundation Board, and he and his partner Jolene Gitis have offered a generous matching gift that they hope will encourage a new generation of major donors.
They’ll match 15 gifts of $5,000 or more that are given by new donors or those who are new to giving above the $1,000 level. The total matching opportunity is $75,000. Please call Judy at (651) 529-1695 for information.
“Civil rights – including the freedom of the press or teaching or religion, the freedom to move, to choose the country you go to, or to have control over one’s reproductive life – must be defended,” Dr. Miles said. “Attacking civil rights is precisely how disparities of wealth, power, and life opportunities are created and sustained. Since property can be taken away and concentrated among the very few, it’s extremely important we keep civil rights available to all.”