The World Medical Association's Complicity in Israel's use of Torture
When you read a description of Sir Michael Marmot's career you realise that he has been showered with honours. We are told that 'Marmot has a special interest in inequalities in health and its causes'. Perhaps he considers being tortured to be some form of accolade?
You might have thought that the President of the World Medical Association would be in the forefront of the fight to prevent doctors participating in torture. Unfortunately this is not the case. When it comes to Israel Marmot and the WMA have deliberately and persistently acted to support the Israeli Medical Association in its active support for doctors who participate in the torture of prisoners.
As Dr Derek Summerfield shows below, the WMA has persistently refused to look at evidence of the IMA’s culpability. This is the stuff of Nuremburg and crimes against humanity.
Victor Brack, the SS doctor who headed the 'Euthenasia' T4 Action which murdered up to 3/4 million disabled people, who was hanged at Nuremburg
At Nuremburg in 1946 in what became known as The Doctors Trial 20 Nazi doctors stood trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and membership of the SS. 7 of them including Viktor Brack, who headed the Euthenasia T4 programme were hanged. The crimes they committed included performing medical experiments on children, twins in particular, without anesthetic.
You might have thought that the WMA would have taken the lessons of Nuremburg to heart. In fact as Derek Summerfield, a tireless campaigner and honorary senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry shows, the WMA is complicit in Israel’s use of torture. Indeed not just in Israel. It also turned a blind eye to the complicity of American doctors in the use of torture by the CIA as has the American Medical Association. Will the US torture doctors face any consequences?
Even more disturbing is the recent decision of Israel’s High Court (which also sits as the Supreme Court) to effectively approve the use of torture by Shin Bet, Israel’s MI5. Israel’s courts have a shocking record when it comes to torture. In previous decisions under the ‘liberal’ Chief Justice Landau, it approved ‘moderate physical pressure’ Under pressure it rowed back on this but still approved torture in ‘ticking time-bomb’ cases i.e. where the bomb was about to go off.
In reality this 'loophole' allowed torture of Palestinian prisoners to be an every day reality. It was only when the State used torture on a few Jewish terrorists in the wake of the Dawabshh murders in 2015, that the issue became a topical one in Israel.
It is even more ironic that torture as an instrument of state policy has been approved by both Israeli Labour and Likud administrations. There has been only one exception to this. When the former head of Irgun and notorious Menachem Begin became Prime Minister he issued strict instructions against the use of torture and Shin Bet officers were even dismissed for torturing suspects. Today that would be inconceivable.
Now however the High Court, despite the clearest evidence, indeed the admission of the torturers themselves, refused to intervene. It is indeed a shameful decision but it is in line with the record of this colonial court. The much vaunted ‘independence’ of Israel’s High Court is a myth. Today it is stuffed with settler judges but even in the past it rarely if ever intervened to prevent the clear racism inbuilt into the Zionist state.
Derek Summerfield The Electronic Intifada 17 November 2017
|Activists come together to protest against Israel’s torture on Palestinian prisoners [Friends of Al Aqsa/Facebook]|
It is now more than 20 years since Amnesty International first concluded that Israeli doctors working with Israel’s security services “form part of a system in which detainees are tortured, ill-treated and humiliated in ways that place prison medical practice in conflict with medical ethics.”
Since then there have been repeated attempts – of which this author has been part – to have the global medical ethics watchdog World Medical Association (WMA) hold the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) accountable for these practices.
But with the latest attempt foundering last year and despite changes in leadership over the years, the conclusion that now has to be drawn is that, when it comes to Israel, the WMA is not fit for the purpose for which it was created after World War II.
The WMA is mandated to ensure that its member associations abide by its codes, in particular its seminal 1975 anti-torture WMA Declaration of Tokyo. This obliges doctors not just to not participate directly in torture but also to protect the victims and to speak out whenever they encounter it.
The significant precedent for our action against the Israeli association was the expulsion from the WMA of the Medical Association of South Africa during the apartheid era on precisely the grounds that doctors became a part of a system in which torture was routine, just as Amnesty International concluded was the case in Israel.
Since then, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has often stated that if the IMA refused to allow doctors to serve in security units commonly deploying torture the practice would come to a halt. The medical presence in these units offers moral legitimation to Israel’s interrogators.
The first attempt to hold the IMA accountable came in 2009, when some 725 physicians from 43 countries appealed to the WMA, attaching the published findings from a number of human rights organizations including Amnesty, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the United Against Torture coalition. That effort ended when it became clear that then-president of the WMA, Yoram Blachar, who was also president of the IMA, would not take any action, indeed refused to even acknowledge receipt of the submission.
Rather than investigating the claims made in the appeal, Blachar filed a libel suit in London against the individual who headed the 2009 campaign (and is also the author of this article). We rebutted the suit, which alleged we had duped signatories into signing the petition. Signatories helped us with our successful rebuttal by asserting to the libel lawyers that they were no dupes. Noam Chomsky was among those in public support of our effort.
The latest of these attempts to hold the IMA accountable came last year when 71 UK-based doctors made a fresh appeal to the WMA. This time, the submission also leaned on the 2011 Physicians for Human Rights-Israel report “Doctoring the Evidence, Abandoning the Victim: The Involvement of Medical Professionals in Torture and Ill Treatment in Israel” regarding the work of Israeli doctors in security units where torture of detainees was routine.
Why, the 2016 submission asked, were the doctors posted to these units not protecting detainees and protesting their treatment? And why has the Israeli Medical Association not acted on such reports, as it should according to the standards set down by the World Medical Association?
A boy wears tape on his mouth reading “Break the silence” during a protest against the torture of Palestinian prisoners in the West Bank city of Ramallah in November 2013. Issam Rimawi APA images
A hope dashed
This time, we hoped that the international reputation of prominent British medical academic Sir Michael Marmot, who at the time was WMA president, could be brought to bear on a case that has been a standing reproach to the idea that global regulation of the ethical behavior of doctors is even-handed and effective.
Marmot did send us an acknowledgment of receipt (unlike his predecessor) but within days of receiving this, we were staggered to see a letter from Marmot to the Simon Wiesenthal Center published on the center’s website.
Addressed to Dr. Shimon Samuels, director for international relations at the Wiesenthal Center, the letter startlingly stated that, vis-à-vis past claims, “investigations have revealed no wrongdoing or mishandling of the cases by the Israeli Medical Association.”
This is entirely untrue. For many years, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has tried to get the IMA to conduct such an investigation but found the association consistently unwilling. “Persistently repeated attempts,” the rights group concluded in 2011 in Doctoring the Evidence, “calling the IMA’s attention to cases arousing suspicion of doctors’ involvement in torture and cruel or degrading treatment, have not been dealt with substantively.”
The IMA did in 2009 look into testimonies of victims of torture collected in 2007 by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, but concluded, after a few phone calls, that the accusations were without merit and flawed because they had no evidence “other than the word of the prisoners.” That conclusion effectively delegitimized victim complaints from the outset.
Not fit for purpose
Marmot’s letter to Samuels in effect gifted the IMA a signal propaganda victory. He did not just make inaccurate statements: he effectively offered the IMA instant and public exoneration. Coming from the WMA president himself, presumed to be speaking for the whole organization, this was a real propaganda coup and one taken up by media outlets like The Jerusalem Post, whose report was duly headlined “World Medical Association affirms trust in Israeli doctors in response to BDS campaign.”
With repeated attempts to have the WMA take the IMA to task for a conclusive body of evidence showing the Israeli medical establishment is – at the very least – enabling a system of torture of prisoners, the focus must now shift to the WMA itself.
Unfortunately, as the case with Israel illustrates, the WMA seems unwilling to act against those with powerful friends like the US. It is far less hesitant in raising concerns with other less powerful countries like Iran or Bahrain, to name but two.
We therefore have to conclude that the world’s medical body is complicit with these Israeli abuses and that its purported mission to uphold ethical standards across the globe is a sham.
This is bad news for Israeli doctors thrust into ethically compromised roles. It is worse news for Palestinian detainees with little to protect them.
Derek Summerfield is a London-based medical academic involved in human rights campaigning on Israel/Palestine for 25 years.
al_zubaydah_who was waterboarded 83 times under the supervision of CIA doctors
Sir Michael Marmot, the World Medical Association, the Israeli Medical Association, and medical complicity with torture in Israel
In February last year the British Medical Journal published our letter relating the extraordinary response by UK academic Sir Michael Marmot, President of the World Medical Association (the official organisation monitoring medical ethics internationally) to the submission by 71 UK doctors of an evidence-based appeal about longstanding complicity with torture by Israeli doctors shielded by the Israeli Medical Association (IMA).
The WMA is mandated to ensure that its member associations, which include the IMA, abide by its declarations- in particular the anti-torture Declaration of Tokyo which forbids doctors any involvement with torture and obliges them whenever they encounter it to protect the victim and to speak out. Within a week of our submission the Zionist organisation Simon Wiesenthal Centre (whose website states "we stand with Israel"), not an involved party in this matter, had published a letter on their website from Marmot on WMA notepaper to their Director of International Relations which claimed that “investigations have revealed no wrong doing” by the IMA.
This is evidentially untrue, as the evidence base to which we point makes transparently clear. This apparent exoneration of the IMA by no less than WMA President gifted them a signal propaganda victory, widely reported. For example, the Jerusalem Post newspaper report was headlined “WMA affirms trust in Israeli doctors..”
Indeed our experience since the original submission to the WMA in 2009 signed by 725 doctors from 43 countries, attaching a raft of incriminating evidence from such as Amnesty International, has been that the WMA will speak out about some countries but never about Israel, whatever the evidence. In the present case Marmot has still not replied to the 71 signatories, and has rebuffed 3 requests by the BMJ for a response. How are we then to understand this refusal to justify actions taken in the name of the WMA Presidency? The circumstances related above, not least the immediate endorsement of the IMA sent to the Wiesenthal Centre, suggests a partisan dereliction of duty which violates the WMA’s own mandates. There is no question that so goes to the heart of the global public reputation of doctors as their complicity with torture- this is why the WMA was created after World War 2.
This matter is a litmus test of whether internationally agreed medical ethical codes actually matter, and can hold transgressors to account, even when they have powerful friends. All the evidence suggests that they are largely window dressing: there is no effective and even-handed regulation of the ethical behaviour of doctors worldwide, even about torture.
By way of postscript to the egregious events above, I had the opportunity to attend a public interview at Battersea Arts Centre of Sir Michael Marmot on Monday 11 December by the satirist and commentator Mark Thomas. It was apparently the first in a series of 8 Mark Thomas is doing on "The NHS at 70". At question time I threw in a tightly worded query about his behaviour in the episode above. Marmot quickly lost his cool and began expostulating loudly, saying: "you have just told at least 6 lies....I have been doorstepped, its all lies, I spoke to Physicians for Human Rights and they said their publications are a bit old and everything is alright now...I spoke to the IMA ..." The best word for his response is venal.
He will of course remain perfectly pleased with the role he played: our campaign created a moment when the IMA had need of some external support, and there was the WMA Pres no less to give it to them, doing his duty: "everything is alright now...". This is what has built impunity in Israel.
Some years ago Noam Chomsky told me that the IMA demonstrated what he called "utter moral degeneracy".
Our campaign continues. An Electronic Intifada article on this issue can be found on this link:
December 21, 2017 at 3:33 pm
The Israeli Supreme Court has been accused of redefining torture so as to permit it after a major new ruling was greeted with dismay by local and international human rights groups.
Last week the court – sitting as the High Court of Justice – denied a petition brought by The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) on behalf of Palestinian prisoner Asad Abu Ghosh.
According to the petition, Abu Ghosh was tortured with “severe mental and physical violence” during a Shin Bet interrogation in 2007, including “beatings, being thrown against a wall, stress positions including the ‘banana’ position, sleep deprivation, and extreme mental duress”.
The High Court was presented with high-level and independent legal-medical opinions confirming the physical and mental damage caused to Abu Ghosh at the hands of his interrogators.
While allegations of torture by Shin Bet agents are commonplace, impunity is the norm; more than 1,000 complaints filed since 2001 did not produce a single criminal investigation. What made this case unusual, however, was that the state admitted “certain pressure methods” had been used.
Despite this, and the evidence presented by PCATI, the High Court still threw out the petition, accepting an earlier decision of the Attorney General not to open a criminal investigation against the interrogators, and thus granting the agents impunity for their actions.
For PCATI, how the court reached its decision is as disturbing as the verdict itself – and one paragraph in particular stands out. “The definition of certain interrogation methods as ‘torture’ is dependent on concrete circumstances,” wrote Judge Uri Shoham, “even when these are methods recognised explicitly in international law as ‘torture’ [my emphasis]”.
The High Court’s decision is being described by some as the most important legal development for interrogations and torture in some two decades; as a report in The Jerusalem Post put it, “essentially, the court took the state’s side on all of the key issues before it”.
In 1999, the High Court ruled that Shin Bet agents could not use “physical means” in their interrogations. However, the justices also held that agents who used such methods could be immune from criminal responsibility in the case of a “ticking bomb” scenario.
Unsurprisingly, since then Palestinians have continued to be tortured by Shin Bet interrogators relying on the “ticking bomb” exception – but as Israeli NGO B’Tselem put it, such methods “were not limited to exceptional cases and quickly became standard interrogation policy”.
This state of affairs has been widely documented, including by the UN Committee Against Torture in May 2016, by interrogators themselves, and in studies like the one published by the ‘Reproductive Health Matters’ medical journal in 2015, which found that “Israeli authorities are systemically involved with torture and ill-treatment of a sexual nature”.
As Israeli legal affairs analyst Yonah Jeremy Bob noted recently, Israel’s Supreme Court was “unique” in having established “a category of ‘moderate physical pressure’ that could legally be used on [prisoners]”. He added: “No democratic country in the present era has defended the legality of such methods or established normative legal principles relating to them quite like Israel.”
Now, this latest High Court decision leaves Palestinian prisoners even more vulnerable to abuse. According to PCATI, the ruling “permits de facto use of torture methods”, including even those forbidden in the High Court’s 1999 judgement, and also “blocks the way for victims who have suffered from physical and psychological trauma to seek redress”.
For Amnesty International, whose 2016/17 annual report found that Israeli forces and Shin Bet agents “subjected Palestinian detainees, including children, to torture and other ill-treatment with impunity”, the Supreme Court decision is troubling.
“We have serious concerns that in taking this decision the Court dismisses, yet again, credible and relevant evidence of systematic torture of Palestinian detainees”, said Magdalena Mughrabi,
Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
In doing so, she added, the court is “sending another green light” to Shin Bet interrogators “that it is acceptable to use methods of coercion, including the combined use of stress positions, beatings and sleep deprivation that amount to torture against Palestinian detainees”.
For Dawoud Yusef, head of the Advocacy and Lobbying unit at Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, “there is very little surprise in regard to the ruling in the case of Abu Ghosh”.
“Not only did the original case in 1999 leave the definitions for ‘moderate physical pressure’ and a ‘ticking bomb’ situation open”, he said, “it also gave the authorities a license to torture”.
“From the [Abu Ghosh] case, a ticking bomb situation does not have to mean that an attack is imminent or that the person in question has the direct information to prevent such a situation. Secondly, the case categorises the banana position, pressure on his fingers, and a beating as simply being ‘moderate physical pressure’.”
Thus, Yusef asked, “the question now is: what will the Israeli state actually consider as torture, and how low can the bar go regarding a ‘ticking time bomb’ situation?”
The Supreme Court’s dismissal of PCATI’s petition joins a long list of examples where Israeli judges have declined to strike down legislation and policies which violate international law.
Addressing the Abu Ghosh ruling, a spokesperson for B’Tselem said that “vital to Israel’s ability to act with impunity is the Supreme Court routine of granting a veneer of legality to almost all violations of Palestinian human rights, and in this case, a particularly grave one”.
For PCATI, at the core of this new ruling is “a refusal… to admit that certain methods, which are recognised internationally as torture, are indeed torture in Israel as well”. While this may ultimately “put the court on a collision course with the International Criminal Court”, in the meantime, as PCATI noted, the “torturers” of Palestinian prisoners will continue to enjoy “absolute impunity”.