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Reviews Book

Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 17 August 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:401
  1. Jeanne Lenzer, medical investigative journalist (
  1. Kingston, New York State, USA

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    I had to force myself to open Oath Betrayed. After all, the topic is grim and, I thought to myself, why bother—we know torture happens. We know it's bad. What more is there to say?

    Steven H Miles

    Random House, $23.95, pp 240 ISBN 1 4000 6578 X Also available as an ebook, $17.95

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    A lot, it turns out. A professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota, who has worked with torture victims and refugees in Africa, Europe, and Asia, Steven H Miles was moved to write Oath Betrayed after he saw the now infamous pictures of victims at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, their bodies beaten, bones broken. He was haunted by a seemingly simple question: why didn't medical personnel blow the whistle long before the scandal became public?

    The answer, it turns out, is far more complex than one might imagine, and in the process of exploring his question, Miles places torture in a historical perspective, dismantles common myths about its practice, and examines US policies that allow and even encourage it.

    Miles relates a conundrum posed by Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov in which Ivan puts the following question …

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