Every camp shall have an adequate infirmary where prisoners of war may have the attention they require, as well as appropriate diet. Isolation wards shall, if necessary, be set aside for cases of contagious or mental disease.
Prisoners of war suffering from serious disease, or whose condition necessitates special treatment, a surgical operation or hospital care, must be admitted to any military or civilian medical unit where such treatment can be given, even if their repatriation is contemplated in the near future. Special facilities shall be afforded for the care to be given to the disabled, in particular to the blind, and for their rehabilitation, pending repatriation ...
Bloche and Marks comment in an op-ed in today’s NY Times, "Triage at Abu Ghraib," regarding an inquiry they undertook at the behest of the New England Journal of Medicine. The inquiry explored the medical services provided at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
At times the hospital lacked basic supplies, according to members of the clinical staff, and at times it maintained a surgical service without surgeons. Sometimes the hospital ran out of chest tubes, intravenous fluids or medicines. Medical staff members improvised, taking tubes from patients when they died and reusing them, without sterilization.
Physician's assistants and general practitioners amputated limbs, a dentist did heart surgery, and Major Auch begged and bartered with other medical units for drugs and intravenous fluids. When they ran out of blood sugar test strips for Abu Ghraib's many diabetics, according to a medic assigned to the unit, they gave insulin by guessing the dose and watching for bad reactions.
The op-ed cautions that although medical personnel broke rules to save lives, they performed heroically under the worst of conditions. The real blame, they assert, lies with the Pentagon.
But at Abu Ghraib, the Army all but abdicated its responsibility to provide care to the thousands of people it kept in custody. This neglect bred dire conditions and desperate measures.
The catastrophic failings of medical care at Abu Ghraib put American lives at risk and violated the United States' obligations to care decently for detainees. The soldiers who snapped and posed for the photos of abuse are being called to account. But the focus on their culpability diverts attention from the causal relationship between the Pentagon's priorities and the hellish conditions that both prisoners and their captors endured. This larger story, of conditions that ensured neglect and invited cruelty, is being ignored.
The ill-equipped and negligently planned medical facilities at Abu Ghraib, if verified, violate not just international, domestic and military law, but assault human decency itself. President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, and the military elite cannot dismiss this as the work “of a few bad apples.” Leadership must be held accountable.