Professor leads forum discussing military abuse

Angela Gray

Steven Miles, professor of medicine and a faculty member in the Center for Bioethics, launched the first Harvard Street Forum on Friday calling attention to military medicine and torture.

The Harvard Street Forum is a new partnership that strives to bring together University students, faculty members and community members to discuss issues and controversy.

“This forum is designed to be a place where conscience and calling embrace the world’s needs,” said Dan Garnaas, a pastor at Grace University Lutheran Church, where the forum was.

Miles said he has been researching 35,000 pages of once-classified documents from witnesses’ testimonies of military torture and abuse.

He said his interest was sparked last May after seeing photographs of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib on “60 Minutes.”

“I kept thinking, Where are the doctors and physicians?” Miles said. “They are at every crisis even when the Red Cross isn’t.”

Miles discussed the ignored military abuse reports and labeled them as a series of missed opportunities.

He described one photograph of seven prisoners naked and bruised with sacks on their heads, surrounded by prison guards with their thumbs up.

“When you add the fact there were nurses around that were not reporting these instances, it turns into a very different picture,” he said.

There have been rules and set regulations for military abuse and the handling of prisoners since the Geneva Conference after World War II, Miles said.

Other forms of abuse that are not physical also exist, he said.

“Abu Ghraib was built on a landfill, the food provided for the unclothed prisoners had rat feces and the families of prisoners were not notified when serious injury or death occurred.

“Neglecting any of the four basic needs including shelter, clothing, food and medical assistance is abuse,” he said.

Miles discussed a document of a prisoner who had a severe cut on his ear.

“The nurse handed the prison guard a sewing kit and told him to fix (the prisoner) up,” he said.

In light of these abuses, many physicians ignored what was going on using “I never told and never asked” as an excuse, Miles said.

Many military and medical personnel have not been prosecuted because many files are closed or have not been released, he said.

“Congress has seen everything and has yet to do anything,” he said.

It is also difficult to get the public mobilized toward an issue, but the endorsement of “domestic voices” can help introduce new policies, he said.

Miles said the media need to focus on more than the abuses.

“The media needs to explain why the abuses are important in terms of violations of international law and the consequences of those violations for impairing our ability to credibly advocate for human rights,” he said.

After his presentation, Miles fielded questions, attendees flocked to information tables and a violinist played the theme song from “Schindler’s List.”