Muslims Help Haiti

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Letters from Dr. Reshma Vasanwala with International Medical Corps

2010-03-10T181912Z_1906337752_GM1E63B06GF01_RTRMADP_3_HAITI-USA

President of Haiti Rene Preval (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama as they deliver remarks in the Rose Garden after meeting at the White House in Washington, March 10, 2010. 

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

TMO Editor’s note: Here are two emails from Haiti sent by Doctor Reshma Vasanwala. She volunteered her services for Haitian earthquake victims, as has Dr. Khalid Rao from Detroit and other Muslim physicians.

reshma

Hi all,

I arrived in Haiti safely–on a UN plane from Santo Domingo. The airport bar at Port au Prince is buzzing with activity–international NGOs, troops (including the 82nd airborne unit), media, journalists, and aid workers.

We are staying at one of the few standing hotels in Port au Prince–a five star hotel that hosted Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn, Anderson Cooper, and the like.  There are still a lot of CNN folks here and media from all over the world staying at the same hotel. To my surprise, I’m in the lap of luxury—buffet meals, swimming pool,. Its weird that just across the street hundreds of thousands of people are living in tents and slums.

We are not allowed to leave the hotel and we take a private bus everyday to our place of work. Driving just these short distances, one can see the devastation caused by the earthquake and the suffering of the Haitian people.

We passed some tent cities that were said to have 40,000 people living there! There is a lot of unrest on the streets as gangs are fighting each other for territories.

Our group has tents set up in the hospital compound, since the buildings are unsafe to work in. The hospital grounds have been transformed into an entire campus of tents-each providing a different type of specialized medical care. There is a pediatric and neonatal ICU, a regular ICU, HIV and TB tents, general surgery, OB, and ER. However, in most of these tents the doctors only come by every few days, and no one to cover at night, so people simply die.

Our group, IMC, provides Emergency care on this campus and we provide coverage 24hours a day.  I am assigned to the ER–which has been awesome.There are literally hundreds of patients (600-800)  each day, and there is a line several blocks long every morning.  I have never quite experienced anything like this. The tents are like 100 degrees, it smells, there are rats and  it is complete chaos–but its a blast!

I am doing things here that I have never done, simply because there is no one else to call, or everyone else is too busy. I have never provided such substandard care in my life, because we don’t have the tool and resources to provide good care. However, the reality is that for most of these people, this is the best care they have ever received.

A word about the people on the IMC team…there are about 30 volunteers here, and I am so impressed by these people. They are brilliant, passionate, interesting and loads of fun.

I am working the night tonight so I have the day off, but I wish I was back at the ER tent rather than the swimming pool–its been that much fun so far.

Reshma

Sent: Monday, March 08, 2010 8:16 AM:

Working with the IMC group has continued to be a blast. Its really amazing that when people come together for a common purpose, there is a unique bond. Our lives have become really integrated and routine. It sometimes feels like summer camp or a travel experience where you don’t have the tedious routines of running errands or the tending to of details that take up so much time back home– so that you can stay focused on purpose. 

I am getting used to the work in the ER and really like it. Its really frustrating however, because everyday people die and often it feels like we are running a hospice service because there is not much we can offer–especially when we don’t have a full laboratory or radiology service.  The medicine wards, where there seems to really be no medical care going on, seem more like a support group—”Hey, I’m sick, you’re sick–lets hang out together”

Yesterday was especially hard yesterday when a 2 year old died from an unknown cause and we watched the mother cry and scream inconsolably. This really got to me.

It was the first time I had seen such a reaction. I was beginning to think, that the Haitian people, having been through so much, had become stoic or emotionally shut down. Before yesterday, I had not really seen emotion expressed in a way that I might expect when a death occurred or when they heard bad news.

On a more random note, a couple of days ago there was some film people from LA who are starting a reality/documentary series about international community development and they filmed all day at our ER. They got me on camera as they followed me and another doctor deal with a sick kid who needed surgery and the surgeons here did not want to operate. We called the 82nd airborne to get the kid transferred to another facility where the surgery took place and the kid survived.

We’ll see if that scout footage makes it on their first show.

Its hard to believe that I just have a few days left. I think I may come back again very soon.

Reshma

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US-AFGHANISTAN: Group Seeks Probe of Mass Graves

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By William Fisher

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A U.S. soldier secures the area around a school, which will host a local election committee on the upcoming presidential election, in the village of Dadu-Khel in Logar Province in Afghanistan 7/22/09.  

REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

NEW YORK, Jul 17 (IPS) – A prominent human rights group is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate why the administration of former President George W. Bush blocked three different probes into war crimes in Afghanistan where as many as 2,000 surrendered Taliban fighters were reportedly suffocated in container trucks and then buried in a mass grave by Afghan forces operating jointly with U.S. forces.

The Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which discovered the mass gravesite in 2002, has issued the call for the criminal probe. The organisation says U.S. government documents it has obtained show that the bodies were reportedly buried in mass graves in the Dasht-e-Leili desert near Sheberghan, Afghanistan.

It charges that Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who it says was on the payroll of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was responsible for the 2001 massacre at a prison run by the general’s forces near the town of Shibarghan.

“Physicians for Human Rights went to investigate inhumane conditions at a prison in northern Afghanistan, but what we found was much worse,” stated Susannah Sirkin, PHR’s deputy director.

“Our researchers documented an apparent mass grave site with reportedly thousands of bodies of captured prisoners who were suffocated to death in trucks. That was 2002; seven years later, we still seek answers about what exactly happened and who was involved,” she said.

PHR says senior Bush administration officials impeded investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the State and Defence departments, and apparently never conducted a full inquiry. The New York Times made the disclosure earlier this month in a story by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen.

Subsequently, President Barack Obama told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he has directed his national security team to look into the alleged massacre. Obama said the government needs to find out whether actions by the U.S. contributed to possible war crimes.

“The Bush administration’s disregard for the rule of law and the Geneva Conventions led to torture of prisoners in Guantánamo and many other secret places,” noted Nathaniel Raymond, PHR’s lead researcher on Dasht-e-Leili.

“Contrary to the legal opinions of the previous Department of Justice, the principles of the Geneva Conventions are non-negotiable, as is their enforcement. President Obama must open a full and transparent criminal probe and prosecute any U.S. officials found to have broken the law,” he said.

“The State Department’s statement to the New York Times that suspected war crimes should be thoroughly investigated indicates a move towards full accountability,” added Raymond. “We stand ready to aid the U.S. government in investigating this massacre. It is time for the cover-up to end.”

PHR reiterated its call to the government of Afghanistan, which has jurisdiction over the alleged mass grave site, to secure the area with the assistance of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan), protect witnesses to the initial incident and the ensuing tampering, and ensure a full investigation of remaining evidence at the site, including the tracing of the substantial amount of soil that appears to have been removed in 2006.

“Gravesites have been tampered with, evidence has been destroyed, and witnesses have been tortured and killed,” PHR said. “The Dasht-e-Leili mass gravesite must finally be secured, all surviving witnesses must be protected, and the government of Afghanistan, in coordination with the U.N. and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), must at last allow a full investigation to go forward.”

PHR charged that U.S. officials have been reluctant to pursue an investigation – sought by officials from the FBI, the State Department, the Red Cross and human rights groups – because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the CIA and his militia worked closely with U.S. Special Forces in 2001.

The group said the United States also worried about undermining the U.S.-supported government of President Hamid Karzai, in which General Dostum had served as a defence official.

“At the White House, nobody said no to an investigation, but nobody ever said yes, either,” said Pierre Prosper, the former U.S. ambassador for war crimes issues. “The first reaction of everybody there was, ‘Oh, this is a sensitive issue; this is a touchy issue politically’.”

PHR’s Raymond, who is head of the organisation’s Campaign Against Torture, told IPS that President Obama’s statement was welcome.

But, he added, “The president’s rhetoric must be matched by urgent action. He needs to pressure President Karzai to secure the mass graves site, protect witnesses and make sure that U.S.-led military forces and the United Nations in Afghanistan protect all evidence of the crimes.”

The New York Times reported that the U.S. has put pressure on Afghan officials not to reappoint General Dostum reappointment as military chief of staff to the Afghan president.

General Dostum has previously claimed that any deaths of the Taliban prisoners were unintentional. He has said that only 200 prisoners died and blamed combat wounds and disease for most of the fatalities.

The first calls for an investigation came from PHR and the International Committee of the Red Cross. A military commander in the United States-led coalition rejected a request by a Red Cross official for an inquiry in late 2001, according to the official, who, in keeping with his organisation’s policy, would speak only on condition of anonymity and declined to identify the commander.

Subsequently, PHR asked the Defence Department to investigate the alleged massacre, but no action was taken. PHR says the prisoner deaths came up in a conversation with Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defence at the time, in early 2003.

“Somebody mentioned Dostum and the story about the containers and the possibility that this was a war crime. And Wolfowitz said we are not going to be going after him for that,” according to the group.

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