The United States Doesn’t Torture? Animal Testing in the Military

Charles J. Rosciam is a retired captain with the Navy Medical Services Corps – a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient.  He and 16 other retired armed forces medical personnel are attempting to convince the Department of Defense (DOD) to stop torturing and killing animals as part of its trauma training program.  Each year, in the name of national security and good medicine, 8500 animals get stabbed, shot, burned and amputated.  Over in the chemical casualty program, vervet monkeys get tormented with drugs whose effects have long since been banned on the field of battleanimal-testingCaptain Rosciam and his colleagues would like to see all that come to an end.

In June, the group joined with the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to brief both the House and Senate on the issue.  The DOD’s own animal regulations require that non-animal substitutes be used whenever possible.  And, according to PCRM, every one of the military’s medical uses of animals could be replaced with equivalent or superior non-animal methods. Those methods range from human-patient simulators to rotations through civilian trauma centers.

Here’s a little bit of irony: Amidst all the controversy and perseveration over detainee torture and whether such grotesqueries are legal and/or acceptable given the heinous crimes the prisoners are alleged to have committed, no one has stopped to consider why it is okay to do all that and worse to beings whose innocence is beyond dispute.  Of course, in the larger scheme, innocence or guilt is irrelevant; Torture is wrong no matter to whom it happens.  And that’s precisely the point here.

When our former president said the United States does not torture, he lied.  When our current president says it, he‘d like it to be true.

Let’s hope he hears and heeds Captain Rosciam.

You go, sir.  Fight on.

–David Cassuto

Torture Hunting

Today on the ski lift, my seat mate told me about a hunting club that adjoins his property.  The club is comprised of people — all to the manner born — who get together to hunt animals and then not kill them.  For example, they “beagle,” which for them involves letting loose hunting beagles to flush and chase rabbits.  The humans, though, are just along for the chase.  They do not kill the rabbits that get flushed although sometimes “the beagles do get the rabbit.”  The club also stages other kinds of hunts none of which have as their aim the death of the animal pursued (despite the occasional casualty).

Both I and my seat mate found these practices very dismaying.  Yet, I’ve been thinking all day about why I find this practice at least as troubling as the type of hunting which involves killing.  Part of me bristles at the idea of toying with the animal (“if you’re going to hunt it, at least, kill it!”) but I recognize the irrationality of such feelings.  Certainly, from the animal’s perspective, it’s better to survive such encounters than the alternative.  So, why is this type of hunting so disturbing?

Perhaps it’s because it lacks any telos other than casual torment.  With the more typical kind of sport hunting (I here intentionally exclude hunting for food, which in my view requires an entirely different analysis), the purpose is to kill rather than torture.  The desire to torture is to my mind more disturbing and anti-social than the desire to kill.  So, I am just that much more unsettled by the fact that there are clubs devoted to its practice.

At least that’s my working hypothesis.

David Cassuto