When you read a description
of Sir Michael Marmot’s career you realise that he has been showered with honours. We are told that ‘Marmot has a special interest in inequalities in health and its causes’. Perhaps he considers being tortured to be some form of accolade?
You might have thought that the President of the World Medical Association would be in the
forefront of the fight to prevent doctors participating in torture. Unfortunately this is not the case. When it comes to Israel Marmot and the WMA have deliberately
and persistently acted to support the Israeli Medical Association in its active
support for doctors who participate in the torture of prisoners.
As Dr Derek Summerfield shows below, the WMA has persistently refused to
look at evidence of the IMA’s culpability.
This is the stuff of Nuremburg and crimes against humanity.
Victor Brack, the SS doctor who headed the ‘Euthenasia’ T4 Action which murdered up to 3/4 million disabled people, who was hanged at Nuremburg
At Nuremburg in 1946 in what became known as The Doctors Trial
20 Nazi doctors stood trial for war crimes, crimes
against humanity and membership of the SS.
7 of them including Viktor Brack, who headed the Euthenasia T4 programme
were hanged. The crimes they committed
included performing medical experiments on children, twins in particular,
Even more disturbing is the recent decision of Israel’s High Court
(which also sits as the Supreme Court) to effectively approve the use of
torture by Shin Bet, Israel’s MI5.
Israel’s courts have a shocking record when it comes to torture. In previous decisions under the ‘liberal’
Chief Justice Landau, it approved ‘moderate physical pressure’ Under pressure it rowed back on this but
still approved torture in ‘ticking time-bomb’ cases i.e. where the bomb was
about to go off.
In reality this ‘loophole’ allowed torture of Palestinian prisoners to be an every day
reality. It was only when the State used
torture on a few Jewish terrorists in the wake of the Dawabshh murders in 2015,
that the issue became a topical one in Israel.
It is even more ironic that torture as an instrument of state policy has been approved by both Israeli Labour and Likud administrations. There has been only one exception to this. When the former head of Irgun and notorious Menachem Begin became Prime Minister he issued strict instructions against the use of torture and Shin Bet officers were even dismissed
for torturing suspects. Today that would be inconceivable.
Now however the High Court, despite the clearest evidence, indeed the
admission of the torturers themselves, refused to intervene. It is indeed a shameful decision but it is in
line with the record of this colonial court.
The much vaunted ‘independence’ of Israel’s High Court is a myth. Today it is stuffed with settler judges but
even in the past it rarely if ever intervened to prevent the clear racism
inbuilt into the Zionist state.
It is now more than 20 years since Amnesty
Israeli doctors working with Israel’s security services “form part of a system in which detainees are tortured, ill-treated and
humiliated in ways that place prison medical practice in conflict with medical
Since then there have been repeated attempts – of which this author has
been part – to have the global medical ethics watchdog World Medical
Association (WMA) hold the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) accountable for
But with the latest attempt foundering last year and despite changes in
leadership over the years, the conclusion that now has to be drawn is that,
when it comes to Israel, the WMA is not fit for the purpose for which it was
created after World War II.
The WMA is mandated to ensure that its member associations abide by its
codes, in particular its seminal 1975 anti-torture WMA
Declaration of Tokyo
. This obliges doctors not just to not participate
directly in torture but also to protect the victims and to speak out whenever
they encounter it.
The significant precedent for our action against the Israeli association
was the expulsion from the WMA of the Medical Association of South Africa
during the apartheid era on precisely the grounds that doctors became a part of
a system in which torture was routine, just as Amnesty International concluded
was the case in Israel.
Since then, Physicians
for Human Rights-Israel
has often stated that if the IMA refused to allow
doctors to serve in security units commonly deploying torture the practice
would come to a halt. The medical presence in these units offers moral legitimation
to Israel’s interrogators.
The first attempt to hold the IMA accountable came in 2009, when some
725 physicians from 43 countries appealed to the WMA, attaching the published
findings from a number of human rights organizations including Amnesty, the Public
Committee Against Torture in Israel
and the United
coalition. That effort ended when it became clear that then-president
of the WMA, Yoram
, who was also president of the IMA, would not take any action, indeed
refused to even acknowledge receipt of the submission.
Rather than investigating the claims made in the appeal, Blachar filed a
libel suit in London against the individual who headed the 2009 campaign (and
is also the author of this article). We rebutted the suit, which alleged we had
duped signatories into signing the petition. Signatories helped us with our
successful rebuttal by asserting to the libel lawyers that they were no dupes.
Noam Chomsky was among those in public support of our effort.
Why, the 2016 submission asked, were the doctors posted to these units
not protecting detainees and protesting their treatment? And why has the
Israeli Medical Association not acted on such reports, as it should according
to the standards
set down by
the World Medical Association?
A boy wears tape on his mouth reading “Break the silence” during a protest against the torture of Palestinian prisoners in the West Bank city of Ramallah in November 2013. Issam Rimawi APA images
A hope dashed
This time, we hoped that the international reputation of prominent
British medical academic Sir Michael Marmot, who at the time was WMA president,
could be brought to bear on a case that has been a standing reproach to the
idea that global regulation of the ethical behavior of doctors is even-handed
Marmot did send us an acknowledgment of receipt (unlike his predecessor)
but within days of receiving this, we were staggered to see a letter
to the Simon
published on the center’s website.
Addressed to Dr. Shimon Samuels, director for international relations at
the Wiesenthal Center, the letter startlingly stated that, vis-à-vis past
claims, “investigations have revealed no
wrongdoing or mishandling of the cases by the Israeli Medical Association.”
This is entirely untrue. For many years, Physicians for Human
Rights-Israel has tried to get the IMA to conduct such an investigation but
found the association consistently unwilling. “Persistently repeated attempts,” the rights group concluded in 2011 in Doctoring the Evidence, “calling the
IMA’s attention to cases arousing suspicion of doctors’ involvement in torture
and cruel or degrading treatment, have not been dealt with substantively.”
The IMA did in 2009 look into testimonies
of torture collected in 2007 by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel,
but concluded, after a few phone calls, that the accusations were without merit
and flawed because they had no evidence “other
than the word of the prisoners.”
That conclusion effectively delegitimized
victim complaints from the outset.
Not fit for purpose
Marmot’s letter to Samuels in effect gifted the IMA a signal propaganda
victory. He did not just make inaccurate statements: he effectively offered the
IMA instant and public exoneration. Coming from the WMA president himself,
presumed to be speaking for the whole organization, this was a real propaganda
coup and one taken up by media outlets like The Jerusalem Post
, whose report
headlined “World Medical Association
affirms trust in Israeli doctors in response to BDS campaign.”
With repeated attempts to have the WMA take the IMA to task for a
conclusive body of evidence showing the Israeli medical establishment is – at
the very least – enabling a system of torture of prisoners, the focus must now
shift to the WMA itself.
Unfortunately, as the case with Israel illustrates, the WMA seems
unwilling to act against those with powerful friends like the US. It is far
less hesitant in raising concerns with other less powerful countries like Iran
, to name
We therefore have to conclude that the world’s medical body is complicit
with these Israeli abuses and that its purported mission to uphold ethical
standards across the globe is a sham.
This is bad news for Israeli doctors thrust into ethically compromised
roles. It is worse news for Palestinian detainees with little to protect them.
Summerfield is a London-based medical academic involved in human rights
campaigning on Israel/Palestine for 25 years.
al_zubaydah_who was waterboarded 83 times under the supervision of CIA doctors
Marmot, the World Medical Association, the Israeli Medical Association, and
medical complicity with torture in Israel
In February last year the British Medical Journal
published our letter relating the extraordinary response by UK academic Sir
Michael Marmot, President of the World Medical Association (the official
organisation monitoring medical ethics internationally) to the submission by 71
UK doctors of an evidence-based appeal about longstanding complicity with
torture by Israeli doctors shielded by the Israeli Medical Association (IMA).
The WMA is mandated to ensure that its member associations, which include the
IMA, abide by its declarations- in particular the anti-torture Declaration of
Tokyo which forbids doctors any involvement with torture and obliges them
whenever they encounter it to protect the victim and to speak out. Within a
week of our submission the Zionist organisation Simon Wiesenthal Centre (whose
website states “we stand with Israel“),
not an involved party in this matter, had published a letter on their website
from Marmot on WMA notepaper to their Director of International Relations which
claimed that “investigations have
revealed no wrong doing” by the IMA.
This is evidentially untrue, as the
evidence base to which we point makes transparently clear. This apparent
exoneration of the IMA by no less than WMA President gifted them a signal
propaganda victory, widely reported. For example, the Jerusalem Post newspaper
report was headlined “WMA affirms trust
in Israeli doctors..”
experience since the original submission to the WMA in 2009 signed by 725
doctors from 43 countries, attaching a raft of incriminating evidence from such
as Amnesty International, has been that the WMA will speak out about some
countries but never about Israel, whatever the evidence. In the present case
Marmot has still not replied to the 71 signatories, and has rebuffed 3 requests
by the BMJ for a response. How are we then to understand this refusal to
justify actions taken in the name of the WMA Presidency? The circumstances
related above, not least the immediate endorsement of the IMA sent to the
Wiesenthal Centre, suggests a partisan dereliction of duty which violates the
WMA’s own mandates. There is no question that so goes to the heart of the
global public reputation of doctors as their complicity with torture- this is
why the WMA was created after World War 2.
This matter is a litmus test of whether internationally
agreed medical ethical codes actually matter, and can hold transgressors to
account, even when they have powerful friends. All the evidence suggests that
they are largely window dressing: there is no effective and even-handed
regulation of the ethical behaviour of doctors worldwide, even about torture.
By way of postscript to the egregious events above,
I had the opportunity to attend a public interview at Battersea Arts Centre of
Sir Michael Marmot on Monday 11 December by the satirist and commentator Mark
Thomas. It was apparently the first in a series of 8 Mark Thomas is doing on
“The NHS at 70”. At question time I threw in a tightly worded query
about his behaviour in the episode above. Marmot quickly lost his cool
and began expostulating loudly, saying: “you
have just told at least 6 lies….I have been doorstepped, its all lies, I
spoke to Physicians for Human Rights and they said their publications are a bit
old and everything is alright now…I
spoke to the IMA …” The best word for his response is venal.
He will of course remain perfectly pleased with the
role he played: our campaign created a moment when the IMA had need of some
external support, and there was the WMA Pres no less to give it to them, doing
his duty: “everything is alright
now…”. This is what has built impunity in Israel.
Some years ago Noam Chomsky told me that the IMA
demonstrated what he called “utter
Our campaign continues. An Electronic Intifada
article on this issue can be found on this link:
December 21, 2017 at 3:33 pm
The Israeli Supreme Court has been accused of
redefining torture so as to permit it after a major new ruling was greeted with
dismay by local and international human rights groups.
Last week the court – sitting as the High Court of
Justice – denied a petition brought by The Public Committee Against Torture in
Israel (PCATI) on behalf of Palestinian prisoner Asad Abu Ghosh.
According to the petition, Abu Ghosh was tortured
with “severe mental and physical
during a Shin Bet interrogation in 2007, including “beatings, being thrown against a wall,
stress positions including the ‘banana’ position, sleep deprivation, and
extreme mental duress”.
The High Court was presented with high-level and
independent legal-medical opinions confirming the physical and mental damage
caused to Abu Ghosh at the hands of his interrogators.
While allegations of torture by Shin Bet agents are
commonplace, impunity is the norm; more than 1,000 complaints filed
since 2001 did not produce a single criminal investigation. What made this case
unusual, however, was that the state admitted
“certain pressure methods
” had been used.
Despite this, and the evidence presented by PCATI,
the High Court still threw out the petition, accepting an earlier decision of
the Attorney General not to open a criminal investigation against the
interrogators, and thus granting the agents impunity for their actions.
For PCATI, how the court reached its
decision is as disturbing as the verdict itself – and one paragraph in
particular stands out. “The definition of
certain interrogation methods as ‘torture’ is dependent on concrete
circumstances,” wrote Judge Uri Shoham, “even when these are methods
recognised explicitly in international law as ‘torture’ [my emphasis]”.
The High Court’s decision is being described
by some as the most important legal development for interrogations and torture
in some two decades; as a report in The Jerusalem Post
put it, “essentially, the court took the state’s
side on all of the key issues before it
In 1999, the High Court ruled
that Shin Bet
agents could not use “physical means”
in their interrogations. However, the justices also
held that agents who
used such methods could be immune from criminal responsibility in the case of a
“ticking bomb” scenario.
Unsurprisingly, since then Palestinians have
continued to be tortured by Shin Bet interrogators relying on the “ticking
bomb” exception – but as Israeli NGO B’Tselem put it, such methods “were not limited to exceptional cases and
quickly became standard interrogation policy
This state of affairs has been widely documented,
including by the UN Committee Against Torture in May 2016
, by interrogators themselves
and in studies like the one published by the ‘Reproductive Health Matters’
in 2015, which found that “Israeli authorities are
systemically involved with torture and ill-treatment of a sexual nature”.
As Israeli legal affairs analyst Yonah Jeremy Bob noted
recently, Israel’s Supreme Court was “unique” in having established “a category
of ‘moderate physical pressure’ that could legally be used on [prisoners]”. He
added: “No democratic country in the present era has defended the legality of
such methods or established normative legal principles relating to them quite
Now, this latest High Court decision leaves
Palestinian prisoners even more vulnerable to abuse. According to PCATI, the
ruling “permits de facto use of torture methods”, including even those
forbidden in the High Court’s 1999 judgement, and also “blocks the way for victims who have suffered from physical and
psychological trauma to seek redress”.
For Amnesty International, whose 2016/17 annual report
found that Israeli forces and Shin Bet agents “subjected Palestinian detainees, including
children, to torture and other ill-treatment with impunity
”, the Supreme
Court decision is troubling.
serious concerns that in taking this decision the Court dismisses, yet again,
credible and relevant evidence of systematic torture of Palestinian detainees”,
said Magdalena Mughrabi,
Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and
In doing so, she added, the court is “sending another green light” to Shin Bet
interrogators “that it is acceptable to
use methods of coercion, including the combined use of stress positions,
beatings and sleep deprivation that amount to torture against Palestinian
For Dawoud Yusef, head of the Advocacy and Lobbying
unit at Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, “there is very little surprise in regard to the ruling in the case of
“Not only did
the original case in 1999 leave the definitions for ‘moderate physical
pressure’ and a ‘ticking bomb’ situation open”, he said, “it also gave the
authorities a license to torture”.
Nonetheless, Yusef continued, the new ruling “represents a key legal addition to the 1999
case”, by fleshing out some of the details of what had previously only been
[Abu Ghosh] case, a ticking bomb situation does not have to mean that an attack
is imminent or that the person in question has the direct information to
prevent such a situation. Secondly, the case categorises the banana position,
pressure on his fingers, and a beating as simply being ‘moderate physical
Thus, Yusef asked, “the question now is: what will the Israeli state actually consider as
torture, and how low can the bar go regarding a ‘ticking time bomb’ situation?”
The Supreme Court’s dismissal of PCATI’s petition
joins a long list of examples
where Israeli judges have declined to strike down legislation and policies
which violate international law.
Addressing the Abu Ghosh ruling, a spokesperson for
B’Tselem said that “vital to Israel’s
ability to act with impunity is the Supreme Court routine of granting a veneer
of legality to almost all violations of Palestinian human rights, and in this
case, a particularly grave one”.
For PCATI, at the core of this new ruling is “a refusal… to admit that certain methods, which are recognised internationally
as torture, are indeed torture in Israel as well”.
While this may
ultimately “put the court on a collision
with the International Criminal Court”, in the meantime, as PCATI
noted, the “torturers” of Palestinian prisoners will continue to enjoy “absolute impunity”.