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Unqualified medics 'did amputations'
The Australian
From correspondents in Washington
February 07, 2005

UNQUALIFIED US military medics stationed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison reportedly carried out amputations and recycled used chest tubes.

A Time magazine report today said staff also lacked medical supplies to treat inmates and that a medic was ordered, by one account, to cover up a homicide inside the jail.

Although the prison just outside Baghdad was jammed with as many as 7000 detainees - some of whom displayed serious mental illnesses - no US doctor was in residence for most of 2003 following the US-led invasion of Iraq.

The report said "with straitjackets unavailable, tethers - like the leash held by Private Lynndie England - were put to use at Abu Ghraib to control unruly or mentally disturbed detainees, sometimes with the concurrence of a doctor".

Private England has been charged with abusing Iraqi detainees at the jail. She was infamously photographed holding a leash attached to the neck of a naked Iraqi inmate sprawled on a cell block floor.

Citing a statement obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, Time reported that an Army medic based at Abu Ghraib spoke of examining 800 to 900 detainees daily as they were admitted. If he worked a 12-hour day, that gave him less than one minute for each exam.

The report also quoted National Guard Captain Kelly Parrson, a physician's assistant at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and 2004. He was seriously injured by a mortar during an insurgent attack that targetted the jail.

Capt Parrson told Time there were times when he and other non-physicians carried out amputations and other procedures on inmates that should have been performed by surgeons.

"I took off an ankle and a lower leg," he said.

"There was no one else, and if it was death or amputation, you just had to do it.

"When somebody died, we just took out their chest tube and inserted it into another, living person."

The National Guard captain spoke of a shortage of catheters, breathing tubes and orthopedic supplies, including casts used to treat bone fractures caused by shrapnel from high explosives.

Another officer, a psychologist, estimated that five per cent of prisoners suffered from mental illnesses, yet for long periods no doctor was on site to treat such inmates.

Doctor David Auch, commander of the reserve company that supported medical operations at Abu Ghraib in 2003, said medics at one point used a helmet to protect a mentally unwell inmate who banged his head against cell walls.

Improvised padded gloves and plastic handcuffs were used to restrain the troubled inmate and a thin leather tether was also used to restrain the man.

Dr Auch said neither he nor his medical staff were consulted about an Iraqi, later dubbed "Ice Man", when he was first brought to the prison for interrogation by US military intelligence.

The detainee subsequently died during questioning in the middle of the night under circumstances that have been officially ruled a homicide by the military.

According to statements made during an Army inquiry, military personnel ordered the body put on ice and then spirited it away after medics had attached a fake IV to the dead man's arm in an apparent attempt to create the impression he was still alive.

Dr Auch told Time that he had not been questioned as part of the army's probe into the homicide.

But he told the magazine a medic told him he was ordered by a military intelligence officer to participate in the ruse and to never discuss it.

The Pentagon has declined to comment on the case while it continues its investigation into the man's death.

In the past year, the US military says it has set up a 52-bed hospital at the jail, staffed by 200 highly trained medical personnel.

The number of detainees in US custody is now about 3000. The interim Iraqi government also held prisoners at the jail, Time said.