Friday, March 12, 2010

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

An elderly Iraqi man - by nature of living his decades in this part of the world, elderly - had cardiac arrest on post some time ago.  He received prompt medical attention in the field, and was rescusitated and stabilized here in the hospital.  Since then, did very well, and was only here for monitoring and medical management awaiting plans to send him to more definitive care out of theater - perhaps Egypt, Jordan or Europe.  In the meantime, I saw him daily, on social calls.  His broken English professesions were always complimentary, and his mannerisms defferential.  He thanked me profusely during each of our conversations twice every shift.  This man could be a grandfather, and this was the persona he portrayed; kind, humble, and patient.
     As per usual, days after the arrival of a patient, intelligence starts to filter down to the medical team.  This patient happened to be a senior military officer in the Ba'athist regime of Sadaam Hussein.  Who knows the extent to which Sadaam produced or planned to produce weapons of mass destruction.  But the brutality of the regime was beyond debate.  Recent Iraqi history is rife with evidence of genocide with the Kurds, and torture and murder of political prisoners. So the question here is:  to what degree was this patient, the man I have helped to keep alive and stabilize, complicit in crimes against humanity? How am I to know?  Clearly, the depths of duplicity within some of those I have already treated is beyond my perception.  I know of one terrorist already who we saved, and who initially told me through an interpreter that he was shot by "terrorists" - the definition of that term is, I suppose, subjective. 
     Physicians are trained to diagnose, triage, and treat.  Over the years, we recognize behavioral characteristics and physical and psychological signs which belie patient history, and some degree, intent.  We are not professionals of the spycraft, however, and do not have particularly good eyes to decipher the clues or misdirections of the cunning and evil among some of those we heal.  Often, we are surprised to learn the true nature or history of those for whom we care.  International Law teaches us that we must treat all patients - US soldiers, civilians, or terrorists - with equal skill and efficiency.  But the law cannot regulate the heart and soul devoted to a patient.  So perhaps for the sake of the law, and for parity, it is best that intelligence comes to us post hoc. 
     Recall GWB's deck of cards - Sadaam as the Ace of Spades?  A few cards off that deck have rolled through here American medical facilities here.  We have fixed many of them so that they survived to stand trial for unimaginable crimes.  This, after "Shock and Awe" and the sequela aimed to take most of them out.  Absurd, isn't it.

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