Army doctors at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad falsified medical records to cover up torture and human rights abuses perpetrated on Iraqi detainees, the British medical journal the Lancet reports today. It calls for a full inquiry into reform of the military health system to address the failure of army medical staff to live up to their code of ethics and a pro- fessional obligation to care for their patients. The journal publishes an article in which Steven Miles, a professor of bioethics at the University of Minnesota, writes that American army doctors and nurses had been fully aware of torture and degrading treatment at Abu Ghraib, but did not blow the whistle before the official inquiry began in January. He says their neglect of the commonly accepted standards of human rights include:
Failure to maintain medical records, conduct routine medical examinations and provide proper care of disabled or injured detainees;
Medical personnel and medical information were used to design and implement psychologically and physically coercive interrogations.
Death certificates and medical records were falsified. An example of the ethical failings of medical personnel came in November 2003 after the Iraqi Major General Mowhoush's head was pushed into a sleeping bag while interrogators sat on his chest. Dr Miles said: "He died; medics could not resuscitate him, and a surgeon stated he died of natural causes. "Months later, the Pentagon released a death certificate calling the death a homicide by asphyxia."
In an editorial comment the Lancet calls on health care workers who saw ill-treatment to break their silence. Dr Miles adds: "The US military medical services, human rights groups, legal and medical academics, and health professional associations should jointly and comprehensively review this material in light of US and international law, medical ethics, the military code of justice, military training, the system for handling reports of human rights abuses, and standards for treatment of detainees. "Reforms stemming from such an inquiry could yet create a valuable legacy from the ruins of Abu Ghraib."