1. Combs, Sarah P. MPH, RN
  2. Bingham, Ray RNC
  3. Lubanga, Noceba MPH, RN
  4. Fisher, Michael S. BSN, RN
  5. Metcalf, Christopher G. BSN, RN

Article Content

The authors of "'The Fear Is Still in Me': Caring for Survivors of Torture" (October 2004) are to be commended for their lucid and thorough review. I recommend that information on both the clinical and ethical aspects of torture be made part of the standard nursing curriculum in the United States. Survivors of torture are cared for in many clinical settings in this country. All nurses must know when and how to screen for a history of torture and how to care for its survivors. It's equally important for them to understand that nurses cannot participate in any form of torture and that if they encounter the practice of torture they have a professional obligation to report it and do everything they can to stop it.


I am the health care coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Survivors Center, a joint project with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center School of Nursing (USCHC-SON). We care for 100 to 200 survivors of torture and their families each year, using a multidisciplinary approach. Nursing undergraduates and graduate students work with our clients. We have pioneered a public health approach and are applying for funds to broaden our work in the community.


This work has convinced me not only that nurses have much to learn about caring for the survivors of torture but also that the survivors have much to teach us about courage, faith, and resilience.


I thought Diana J. Mason's editorial ("The Dogs That Did Not Bark," October 2004) was very brave, especially as it makes reference not only to Abu Ghraib but also to instances of torture and the abuse of power within our own country. I think it was a very timely reminder of nurses' ethical duty and the bravery required to fulfill that duty. The trust that people place in us and the power we have to heal and help people through trauma derive from our commitment to the worth of every individual.


Your editorial brought back memories of South African martyr Stephen Bantu Biko, who died in jail, and the doctors who, by neglecting his medical care, collaborated with the police in his torture and death. And the nursing officials at the time played their part by making sure that so-called terrorists were returned to the police for more torture. Those nurses who had the courage to stand up to the apartheid officials suffered the consequences.


I served on the 782nd Forward Surgical Team from February 13, 2003, until March 4, 2004. Most of that time was spent in a compound outside Fallujah, Iraq. As a military nurse, when you're busy, you're very busy, and when you're not, you wait. So we sought work to do, both to maintain our skills and to help rebuild that nation. We performed almost 100 surgical procedures on detainees from Abu Ghraib. We cleaned old (precoalition) wounds, corrected misalignments of old fractures, revised scar tissue, and performed trauma surgery on coalition soldiers, detainees, and Iraqi nationals alike.


Unfortunately, it is true that some did commit injustices, and I am ashamed of those involved. It was irresponsible for Diana J. Mason to state that "military nurses and physicians assisted in torture," because it is a generalization and it is not true. I've checked the cited sources and others and realized that what bothered me most is the media's attempts to sell newspapers, magazines, and journals by jumping on the morals bandwagon.


Nowhere in Steven H. Miles's article (mentioned in the October 2004 editorial) or his cited source materials did I read about the nurse who assisted in the abuses that went on at Abu Ghraib by direct action or omission of action. Before lumping all health care professionals into one big guilty pile, please check the sources, verify information, then make your accusations as you see fit. I feel alienated and betrayed because your editorial includes nurses in its list of the assumed guilty. I know that you have upset many military nurses by this accusation.


Sarah P. Combs, MPH, RN


Denver, CO


Ray Bingham, RNC


Montgomery Village, MD


Noceba Lubanga, MPH, RN


New York, NY


Michael S. Fisher, BSN, RN


Omaha, NE


Christopher G. Metcalf, BSN, RN


Fort Bragg, NC