Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bushland: No Experts Permitted

Here we have a letter that appeared in one of the most prestigious and professional journals of medicine in the world, The Lancet, from 260 doctors from 7 countries, including the United States. That is, physicians—you know, medical professionals who have been educated in their science, experienced in their art, and bound to their professional ethical code, exemplified in the Hippocratic Oath. This is what they have to say:

Fundamental to doctors' responsibilities in attending a hunger striker is the recognition that prisoners have a right to refuse treatment. The UK government has respected this right even under very difficult circumstances and allowed Irish hunger strikers to die. Physicians do not have to agree with the prisoner, but they must respect their informed decision. Those breaching such guidelines should be held to account by their professional bodies...We urge the US government to ensure that detainees are assessed by independent physicians and that techniques such as forcefeeding and restraint chairs are abandoned forthwith in accordance with internationally agreed standards.

The only major media outlets I found covering this story were Reuters and BBC World. Where the big networks have been on this is anyone's guess. Have any questions been raised to Scott McLellan, Donald Rumsfeld, or any of the Bushies, about this issue? Not that I can find. The only official response obtained from the American government is mentioned in the Reuters story noted above: it's from a Pentagon mouthpiece who basically said, "we don't listen to experts, and codes of ethics mean nothing to us." In fact, they put it in writing:

In a written response to questions, the Pentagon said, "Professional organization declarations by doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc. are not international treaties, therefore are nonbinding and not applicable to sovereign nation-states."

But let's be fair: experts and professionals have never fared well with the Bushies. That climate scientist who tried to warn Dubya in a pre-Katrina meeting about the potential for the destruction of the levees; the near-universal voice of scientists on the matter of teaching Intelligent Design in science classes; the 2,000 plus climate scientists around the world who authored the Millennial Assessment, a study of global climate changes resulting from human factors such as the burning of fossil fuels and the attendant dangers of global warming; military experts—four star generals and the like—who spoke out about the lunacy of attempting to secure a vast and unstable country like Iraq with insufficient force; the economists around the country who warned of the likely consequences of tax cuts and runaway spending; the atomic experts who have repeatedly stated that Iran is roughly a decade away from having an actual nuclear weapon and therefore does not pose "a grave national security concern" (Bush's words today) that must be dealt with via threat of force (Cheney's words yesterday).

The fact is, experts with professional background and knowledge need not apply in Bushland. In fact, the greater your expertise, the less you are likely to be heard and, if you happen to be working for the government, the more likely you are to be fired (ask former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill or General Shinseki).

Once again, our mainstream media have failed us as well as our government has. Great, we're orbiting Mars; cool, the Dubai ports deal got snuffed; and how ducky it is that all three major networks are claiming it as an "exclusive" that the FBI is onto the terrorist plot to blow up March Madness (though just past the red headlines it will say: "The FBI said Friday there is no specific, credible threat of a terror attack aimed at college basketball arenas or other sports stadiums, but acknowledged alerting law enforcement to a recent Internet posting discussing such attacks." In other words, there is no credible justification for whipping up fear, but what the hell, a little fear never hurt anybody and it makes nice headlines).

Oh, and Slobo is dead.

So they've got those big stories all covered up for us. But what about the worst and longest-running travesty of international justice to occur on an American government's watch in recent memory, and a penetrating comment on that travesty from an allied group of international professionals—physicians? Nothing. Not a single word.

Well then, it's up to us again—the blogosphere, the alternative press, and freethinking individuals around this country—to pick up the ball that the mass media has once again dropped (or buried). Frankly, I think it's disgusting that it should be so: but the mainstream press of this nation has become our great cultural emetic.

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