Dr. Stephen Miles is a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a faculty member of its Center for Bioethics. He is also a practicing physician. Two of his books outline his concerns for victims of torture and veterans with disabilities.
In 2006 Miles wrote Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror. “This is a work of medical ethics,” said Miles. “I believe that the Abu Ghraib abuses ask health professionals to reaffirm the values and duties that lie at the core of being healers. I disagree with those who say that medical complicity in the abuse or neglect of prisoners is essentially a political issue. I believe that these abuses summon the moral engagement of all medical professionals: those in military service, those who are civilians and the various medical societies. As we shall see, a torturing nation uses fear, persuasion and propaganda to secure the assent to torture from society and its legal, academic, journalistic and medical professionals.”
The book raises the question: How do we improve the accountability and sanctioning of doctors for these abuses? And he’s just completed a review of all of the doctors sanctioned for torture after the Nazis. Miles researched Nazi doctors’ trial held after the end of World War II. In one case the doctor wasn’t sanctioned for torture until 1976, in Greece. But now many doctors have been accused of being involved in torture. Miles believes doctors should be held accountable for such actions and should act as human rights monitors, not participate in torture of prisoners.
In some countries, doctors who participate in torture are jailed or lose their licenses. Some human rights group post information about these doctors online, giving their names, work and home addresses and other information. One of the groups is called “If there is No Justice, There Will be Denunciation.”
Miles’ mission is clear, as a doctor focused on medical ethics; he is concerned with the role of medical personnel in war, the treatment of prisoners of war and the role of any government and medical personnel actions of complicity of torture. He works to provide information that will be used to hold the people accountable who authorized, took part in and/or did nothing to stop the torture of prisoners of war. He is concerned with the rehabilitation and reintegration into any community by veterans with disabilities and by the victims of torture.
Miles’ writing is controversial and he has received death threats because of his work. Regardless of that, he is committed to bring to justice those who have any role in torture.
Miles is also concerned with military personnel who return home from the war with physical and/or mental disabilities. “We know that people who go to war have a certain level of post traumatic stress disorder,” Miles said. “People who see combat have a higher level [of PTSD]. And people who participate in atrocities have the highest levels of post traumatic stress disorder.”
Miles believes soldiers should be “treated for their exposure to such things as Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome and the Nuclear depleted uranium.” He believes, the same is true for anybody who because of war, became physically disabled or acquired post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or any other mental health issues and should be treated for their exposure.
The armed forces, “are highly disturbed with the violence, including the domestic violence and suicide upon reentry of veterans,” said Miles. “They’re working on a variety of means to both make the reentry better and also to effectively handle people who are having difficulty during reentry. Unless we have a multi-professional system for addressing the transitional needs of veterans, a court is a decision making body without a way to effect its decisions in a successful way.”