Israeli medical chief returns fire on ‘torture’

The Israeli president of the World Medical Association has challenged his main critics to put up or shut up.

He says that if they have a case against Israeli doctors whom they believe to have been complicit in the torture of Palestinians, they should lodge complaints with the police and the state’s Attorney General.

Dr Yoram Blachar has been under attack from Physicians for Human Rights–Israel (PHR-I) and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) — which claim that a number of Israeli doctors have either collaborated with the security services in the torture of prisoners, or have turned a blind eye to the practice. The two organisations have previously called on the Israel Medical Association, of which Dr Blachar is also president, to investigate the claims.

In May, an open letter signed by 725 doctors from 40 countries was sent to the chair of the WMA Council, calling for Dr Blachar’s dismissal.
The move was initiated by Dr Derek Summerfield, a lecturer at the London Institute of Psychiatry, who is arguably Dr Blachar’s sternest critic. But in response, an internet petition backing Dr Blachar has attracted more than 4,000 signatures of mainly medical people in Europe, the Middle East, America, Canada and Australia.

Speaking in Oxford last week after a seminar on paediatric ethics, Dr Blachar said: “The legal situation in Israel is that torture is a criminal act.

“I wonder why PCATI or the PHR-I do not file a complaint with the Israeli police or the Attorney General’s office, citing those physicians for breaking the criminal law. This can be done at any moment. Then if and when they make a complaint, it is the obligation of the authorities who have the full investigating powers that we in the IMA lack to investigate.

“The role of the IMA as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) is to talk to the doctors involved, interview them and get their responses. That was what we did and that was all we could do because the IMA is not an investigating body,” said Dr Blachar.

He said war was not an excuse to ignore torture. “Torture is unacceptable and is a criminal breach of medical ethics if it is done by any physician either actively or by turning a blind eye. I cannot accept such behaviour.

“We repeatedly try to educate our physicians in this, and about this position. We repeatedly issue the principles of medical ethics regarding torture and degrading human conduct, in line with WMA declarations that we have signed. It is not for nothing that we signed them; we adhere to them. We educate our physicians about the absolute need to comply with these declarations, as well human ethics.”

Dr Blachar said he would end all contact with the two organisations because of their continued attacks on Israeli physicians.
But Dr Ishai Menuchin, executive director of PCATI, said that the organisation had not reported the doctors to the police or legal authorities because they knew it would be a waste of time.

“We have reported more than 600 cases in the past eight years to the authorities and every one has either been dismissed — that there was no torture — or that it was based on legal necessity. So what is the point of writing to the authorities about the doctors?

He added: “The IMA is a professional body which should investigate when its members might have done something wrong.”

    Last updated: 4:05pm, July 22 2009