Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Free To Do No Harm

Iraqi doctors are upset about how Iraqi soldiers are acting in hospitals:

More than two dozen doctors walked out of one of Baghdad's busiest hospitals on Tuesday to protest what they said was abuse by Iraqi soldiers, leaving about 100 patients to fend for themselves in chaotic wards.

This post isn't about defending abuse by the soldiers of our ally. But it is about perspective. Under Saddam, the doctors themselves were the ones running amok in the hospitals as agents of Saddam:

Beginning in June 1994, the government of Iraq issued at least nine decrees that establish severe penalties, including amputation, branding and the death penalty for criminal offenses such as theft, corruption, currency speculation and military desertion. These new decrees greatly impinge on individual human rights and constitute violations of several international human rights conventions and standards.

The government of Iraq attempts to deflect international criticism of this cruelty by maintaining that the decrees were enacted to combat rising crime which, it says, is due to the poverty and desperation brought on by international economic sanctions. By implying that if sanctions are lifted and the situation improves the decrees could be repealed, Iraq appears to use these abuses as leverage for the lifting of sanctions. While arguing that the decrees serve as a deterrent to crime, the government has offered no information that they are serving this purpose.

The government of Iraq also maintains that the decrees are based on Sharia, Islamic law. Sharia, however, is subject to various interpretations, and the Iraqi government's interpretation reflects its political agenda. The repressive political climate within Iraq prevents discussion by Iraqis about other interpretations. Moreover, Muslims outside Iraq hold views regarding the use of amputation under Islamic law that conflict with Iraq's interpretation.

The penalty of amputation is now applied to theft, forgery, currency speculation, military desertion and draft-dodging. Reports from Iraqi news media indicate that the sentence of amputation has been carried out on several individuals convicted of theft. One victim was displayed on Iraqi government television recuperating in the hospital after his hand had been cut off. For deserters and draft-dodgers the ear is amputated.

So I take this as a sign of improvement that first, doing no harm has returned as a goal for Iraqi doctors to live up to.

Second, it is a good sign that unlike under Saddam, doctors don't feel compelled to look away or cooperate with the government when it is pushing the bounds of what is permissible (or in Saddam's case, committing crimes against humanity).

Progress is apparent all around, people. Even in unlikely news stories.