Doctors who torture

May 14, 2020 / 5 mins read

Doctors take an oath to do no harm. But, as Steven Miles reveals in The Torture Doctors, there are some who stray from their role as promoters of health and human rights. Torture doctors are medical professionals who work on behalf of their governments to enable and engage in torture. This book fearlessly explores who these doctors are, their motivations, what they do, how they escape justice, and what we can do about it. A movement within the human rights community has begun to hold doctors who abet torture accountable, but there is still work to be done. A groundbreaking portrayal of a hidden medical specialty, The Torture Doctors ultimately provides a roadmap for how the medical and human rights communities can come together to end these atrocities. Read on for a Q&A with Steven Miles to learn more about doctors who torture.

How prevalent are torture doctors today? In which countries do torture doctors practice?

Torture doctors work in every country that tortures; democracies and autocracies, open societies and closed states. On the other hand, in all but the most repressive torturing societies, there are also physicians who faithfully report torture.

Torture doctors escaped accountability to the law and licensing boards until the 1970s–decades after the Nuremberg Trials led the public falsely to believe these perpetrators would answer for their atrocities. Why did it take so long for torture doctors to be brought to justice? What was the catalyst?

Even while the Nazi Doctors’ trial was underway at Nuremberg, the Cold War led the East and West to recruit torture doctors from Germany and Japan for military research. Impunity became the norm for governments, national medical societies, licensing boards, and even the World Medical Association that was founded on the Nuremberg promise of accountability for medical crimes against humanity. The modern human rights movement crystalized in the mid-seventies, and it began to hold torture doctors accountable.

Who are the people who betray their oaths to become torture doctors? Do they often fit a certain profile, or share characteristics?

Few are psychopaths. Torture doctors are mostly careerists who collaborate to obtain government positions or simply choose to overlook the tortured people they see in their practice. They devise and oversee methods of torture, treating persons undergoing torture to keep them alive for future interrogation. They falsify medical records and death certificates and devise techniques that do not leave scars with the intent of concealing torture.