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How Bradley Manning's Treatment Is Tarnishing the Military Psychiatry Profession

How will psychiatrists at Quantico cope with a dilemma that threatens the good name of their profession?

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We have a different president now. And the cancer is spreading. Under Obama’s watch,  you don’t have to be a “foreign combatant” to be tortured in a U.S. facility. You can be an American citizen awaiting trial. The doctors involved in Manning’s treatment are not in a war zone. Nor are they dealing with a convicted criminal.

The world is watching.  A significant 2009 resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council outlines the role and responsibility of medical and other health professionals in “torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” It urges states to act to prevent health workers from becoming involved in torture and degradation and to protect those who voice their objections. The resolution incorporates standards set by the medical profession into international human rights law. For the first time in a United Nations document, the Hippocratic oath is presented as the global ethical norm.

The recent resignation of P.J. Crowley, the state department official who voiced disapproval of Manning’s treatment, has sent a message to people who speak freely from their conscience: Do so and you will lose your job. That is quite chilling, and it will require not only extraordinary courage, but committed support from the public, to enable the psychiatrists at Quantico to speak freely about what they are witnessing and what they are asked to facilitate.

President Obama, along with members of Congress, are currently failing these doctors by condoning the torture of Manning. If the doctors speak out and are censured, the offense will be compounded.

Do doctors save lives? Or do they participate in acts which they know to be a violation of the standards of their profession? Where are the boundaries for doctors serving the state? We are waiting for the psychiatrists at Quantico to tell us.

Lynn Parramore is the editor of New Deal 2.0 , a project of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute.

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