Torture, Redux: Did Nurses Assist?April 8, 2009
In October 2004 AJN published “The Fear Is Still in Me” by Kathleen McCullough-Zander and Sharyn Larson, an article detailing how nurses might identify, assess, and treat the approximately 400,000 to 500,000 survivors of torture now living in the U.S. (I was the editor). It’s not a subject most people like to think about, but there it is.
And now here it is again, according to a “long-secret” report by the International Committee of the Red Cross that was completed in 2007 and only recently published online by the New York Review of Books. Only this time, it’s health care personnel—a group that “should be understood to include physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and other para-health staff”—who allegedly participated in torture. No, they weren’t there to safeguard the victims. As an article about the report in Monday’s New York Times notes, the role of such professionals “was primarily to support the interrogators, not to protect the prisoners.”
Does it matter that those tortured were suspected of terrorism and were being held by the CIA overseas? Not to the International Council of Nurses, which has issued and twice revised a position statement that calls for nurses to actively oppose torture; I can find no exceptions named. Indeed, many nurses—including McCullough-Zander and Larson—have argued that the prevention of human rights abuses is itself a nursing responsibility. It’s an argument that needs heeding, again.
—Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor