Hidden away in this month’s Annals of Internal Medicine, the journal of the American College of Physicians, is a paper by American doctor Sondra Crosby about her experience treating a Tanzanian torture victim. Unfortunately, the paper cannot be reproduced here, and it is not generally accessible on the internet. Nevertheless, this clinician’s account of her client’s five-year ordeal in multiple U.S. detention sites, and her reflections on the unorthodox and creative methods required to provide support for him after his release, merits special attention.
By way of contrast with an increasingly fear-driven and reductive U.S. detainee policy, true national security will only be achieved when Americans are able to engage authentically and humanely with those they describe as terror suspects.
At a time when the domestic U.S. debate on the release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. prisons in Afghanistan is hobbled by political short-termism and an increasingly internecine discourse around “recidivism,” a little humanity goes a long way. Crosby’s acutely humane response to her client opens a window into the human cost of the War on Terror, and charts an alternative course for dealing with the legacy of America’s overseas prisons.
Crosby’s client, “Rashid,” was released, with a document confirming both his detention and his innocence, in 2008. Rashid has told United Nations investigators how he was one of many foreigners captured in Somalia in 2003, sold for a bounty by Somali warlords to the CIA, and rendered via Kenya and Djibouti to U.S. prisons in Afghanistan.
Five torturous years later, Rashid was unceremoniously flown back home. During his time in U.S. detention, Rashid’s life had totally unravelled. Suffering from acute post-traumatic stress disorder after his release, Rashid was unable to work and had no means to support himself. His lack of self-sufficiency led to further depression and feelings of inadequacy and shame because he had to rely on his family for his basic needs.
A year later, Rashid met Crosby, a physician evaluator for American NGO Physicians for Human Rights. Crosby describes times during the clinical evaluation when both doctor and patient broke down in tears: Rashid described severe beatings, prolonged solitary confinement, forced nakedness and humiliation, sexual assault, being locked naked in a coffin, and forced to lie naked on a wet mat, naked and handcuffed, and then rolled up into a wet mat “like a corpse.” The list goes on.
The Obama administration has steadfastly refused to address the possibility of reparations or accountability for victims of U.S. torture during the War on Terror. Crosby writes that it was difficult to leave Rashid after having uncovered such desperate need, and having no available resources to alleviate his suffering. Nevertheless, cooperation between Physicians for Human Rights and a local organization “made treatment a reality for this man.” Anti-depressants were sent by post, a psychologist from a neighbouring country made regular trips to meet Rashid. Crosby has continued to keep in touch with Rashid by telephone, developing a relationship of trust against all the odds. Over two years later, Crosby writes: “I have detected something new in our communication – hope. Rashid is now hopeful about his recovery and future. And I am hopeful that it is possible to repair the wounds my country has inflicted.”