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Antimalarials as Torture: Damning Evidence from Guantanamo

Mefloquine was once a common antimalarial, both for prophylaxis, and for treatment given infection. These days, while still available, Malarone is the choice for those who can afford it and Doxycyclene is still commonly used though it’s efficacy is often in doubt. I’ve personally taken Malarone with no ill effects (besides an increased waistline). Mefloquine has fallen out of favor largely due to complaints of serious psychological side effects. It is not recommended for those with underlying psychological issues as it can induce paranoia, rage and vividly violent nightmares. People I know who have taken it have related stories of frighteningly real, sexually violent dreams and of seeing hallucinations of rabid dogs and demonic manifestations.

According to medical records from Guantanamo, the US military prescribed Mefloquine for all detainees upon arrival to the makeshift prison. Not only that, but they also prescribed it at a dose that is 5 times the normal dosage of Mefloquine, and without evaluating detainees for possible preexisting conditions (depression, epilepsy) that rule out the use of Mefloquine. Here is the intake form used at Guantanamo:

Now, Mefloquine is a prophylactic, meaning that it is intended to prevent malaria infection. Malaria is unknown in Cuba. Many of the countries that the detainees came from are malaria endemic countries, but no doctor would ever prescribe Mefloquine without first obtaining a positive test for malaria. The intake form indicates that a malaria test is performed, but that the detainee would have already been given Mefloquine.

The conclusion is that Mefloquine was unnecessarily prescribed at a dosage higher than ever given. The only logical option is that Mefloquine was prescribed at a massive dosage to intensify lvels of fear among detainees, particularly at a time when detainees would already be psychologically compromised. In short, Mefloquine was used at Guantanamo as a form of pharmaceutical torture.

Guantanamo is already a well known stain on our history for reasons that anyone who reads this blog should be well aware of. The Bush admin was one of the worst periods in our history and I regret that I was not educated nor aware enough during those 8 years of insanity to realize how bad it really was. It is, of course, entirely regrettable that the Obama admin didn’t have the fortitude to close Guantanamo down within a week of it’s inauguration.

Allegations of medical experimentation at Guantanamo have persisted for years. The awful mix of torture and medicine raises specters of Josef Mengele and Unit 731. It blatantly violates the central tenet of the Hippocratic Oath that deliberately protects against needless treatment and promotes the welfare of patients. What’s worse, we paid for it. Countless Americans who don’t understand the necessity of due process, the Geneva convention and human rights lent their full support.

The full text of the Seton Hall investigation is here. It’s a fascinating read.

Book of the Week: The Photographer Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders

I had intended to have a weekly “Movie of the Week” post, but the movies I watched this weekend were overshadowed by this incredible book. From 1979 until 1989, the Soviet Union waged a massive war against Afghanistan that led to more than 1 million Afghan deaths, 5 million Afghan maimed and injured and the displacement of nearly half the population of Afghanistan. During the 1980’s more than half of all worldwide refugees were Afghan. Doctors Without Borders proactively provided desperately needed on the ground medical services to stranded and isolated populations, often at great risk to themselves.

French photographer Didier Lefèvre documents one arm of Doctors Without Border’s humanitarian efforts. Travel to medical sites had to be done on foot, as roads did not exist to the areas most starved for services. Doctors and humanitarian workers were smuggled over the Pakistan border under cover of night, riding along weapons supply caravans, where men literally carried munitions on their backs over mine filled mountain paths with few supplies.

Lefevre documents the entire 3 week journey to the inlands of Afghanistan, a month long stint providing medical services to multitudes of wounded men, women and children and a harrowing 4 week journey back. Interspersed with his incredible photographs is a graphic novel style telling of anecdotes from the journey, conversations with the humanitarian workers and interactions with Afghanis along the way. What results is not only an intimate view of life providing badly needed help to a wounded and scarred population, but also a complete portrait of an incredibly deep and complex culture. Lefevre’s work is exceedingly relevant given the current context of the Afghanistan war effort by the US and NATO, and perhaps essential to understanding at least part of the historical context which led to the Taliban takeover, 9/11 and our subsequent involvement.

My only complaint with the book is that the photographs are sometimes small and difficult to see (at least to my old man eyes), but the storytelling and presentation do well to fill in the blanks. This is a historically massive work. Lefevre’s document of events, along with Emmanuel Guibert’s artwork create a relevant and moving view of the senselessness of war and the great price that everyone pays in health and welfare.

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Movie of the Week: Afghanistan: The Lost Truth

Filmed shortly after the fall of the Taliban, Iranian actress and documentary filmmaker Yassamin Maleknasr crosses the border and does a round trip through the major areas of war torn Afghanistan, documenting the voices of a scarred and battered people. Maleknasr conducts interviews in what I assume to be Farsi, opening up a set of doors likely not available to western journalists. What results is an honest portrait of a powerful and prideful people. The majority of the film is constructed from a feminist perspective, emphasizing the hopes and dreams of young women and old from all over Afghanistan.

Maleknasr presents pictures of multitudes of women, long denied educational opportunities under the Taliban, expressing their greatest wishes to become doctors, lawyers, pilots and journalists. From this film, one can conclude that the hope for the future of Afghanistan, like many developing and war torn countries, lies in it’s women, arguably their greatest resource. Maleknasr does not, however, present only women. She also interviews the head of Afghan TV, the chief of the oldest newspaper in Kandahar (which still presses on handset letterpress), poets, and doctors who relate the travesty of Taliban health care. By far the most powerful scene to me is that of Latif Ahmadi, the head of Afghan film, who tears up when describing how the Taliban burned the entire film library, including a prized print of Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.” Honestly, until I saw this documentary, I wasn’t even aware that Afghanistan has a deep film history, and a vibrant group of present-day filmmakers. There’s even a Afghan monthly film magazine.

This is a fantastic work, that, unfortunately appears to have gotten little press.It is beautifully shot, with panoramic views of the Afghan countryside, interspersed with Afghan musicians from every end of the country. While many of her subjects willingly relate horror stories of the Taliban, Maleknasr conspicuously leaves out any signs of active conflict (the US is non-existent), aside from crumbling buildings and what once was Kabul’s cultural center. Maleknasr paints a human portrait, instead focusing on the incredible cultural riches Afghanistan still has; a wealth of brilliant individuals even the Taliban couldn’t suppress.

The film is widely available online and on YouTube. If you have the time, see it.

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