Ending Medical Complicity in State-Sponsored Torture

29 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 21 Aug 2011

See all articles by Steven Hoffman

Steven Hoffman

York University; Harvard University

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: 2011


Since September 11, 2001, state-sponsored torture has become increasingly accepted and institutionalized despite its clear illegality. It is now practiced on a widespread basis in over 100 countries. Medical complicity in torture is a particularly worrisome aspect of this challenge. Physician involvement legitimizes torture and is often used to condone, justify and facilitate more extreme torture techniques that may not otherwise be possible. Doctors have become irreplaceable in modern torture methods such that their non-participation would thwart many instances of it that would otherwise proceed as planned. Ending medical complicity in torture is thus intrinsically important and essential to helping eradicate torture more broadly. However, given the clear legal consensus prohibiting torture, additional declarations or international laws are unlikely to be effective. Indeed, doctors working for militaries, intelligence agencies and other governmental entities often face divided loyalty between their employers and orders on one hand and the law and medical ethics on the other. They are immunized from accountability by the same governments that employ them. Instead, to end medical complicity in torture, efforts must be taken to bring existing instruments into effect through enhanced adherence and compliance. This article comprehensively reviews the international laws and declarations prohibiting torture and then applies them to the context of medical practice. The specific elements of medical complicity in torture are then defined based on similar concepts in international law and compared to current state practices around the world that have been documented. Various legal and political mechanisms are then identified by which governments and individual physicians can be held accountable so as to inform potential policy options and ultimately mitigate this practice.

Keywords: Torture, international humanitarian law, medicine, litigation

Suggested Citation

Hoffman, Steven, Ending Medical Complicity in State-Sponsored Torture (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1901107

Steven Hoffman (Contact Author)

York University ( email )

Global Strategy Lab
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Harvard University ( email )

Department of Global Health & Population
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Boston, MA 02115
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/steven-hoffman/

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