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And If They Were American Nurses?


Imagine, if you will, that:

“Five American nurses and a British doctor have been detained and tortured in a Libyan prison since 1999, and that a Libyan prosecutor called at the end of August for their execution… on trumped-up charges of deliberately contaminating more than 400 children with HIV in 1998. Meanwhile, the international community and its leaders sit by, spectators of a farce of a trial, leaving a handful of dedicated volunteer humanitarian lawyers and scientists to try to secure their release.

Implausible? That scenario, with the medics enduring prison conditions reminiscent of the film Midnight Express, is currently playing out in a Tripoli court, except that the nationalities of the medics are different. The nurses are from Bulgaria and the doctor is Palestinian.”

 Declan Butler, a senior editor at the science journal Nature, posted that passage on his blog today, in an attempt to rally not only the scientific community, but the blogosphere as well, to bring international attention to this case, as the medics may be sentenced to death this week. Butler is pointing readers to this strongly-worded editorial, and more background on the case can be found here

But, in a nutshell: Libyan prosecutors are demanding death by firing squad for these five nurses and the doctor on charges that they infected more than 400 children with HIV at a hospital in Benghazi. At least 50 children have died. The six medics were convicted on the same charges in 2004 and sentenced to death then, but Libya’s Supreme Court overturned the convictions and ordered a retrial, which opened in May. The next hearing is scheduled for today, and lawyers for the medics say this will likely be the last hearing before the court announces its verdict. Human rights groups and Bulgaria have accused Libya of concocting the charges to cover up unhygienic practices in the hospital.

Coverage of the medics’ seven-year plight has been fairly light in American media and on the blogs, with only occasional mentions in stories about George Bush making nice with Mouammar Gaddafi. (Although, dear Judy Miller seems to be trying to burnish her rep with this recent piece.) U.N. sanctions were lifted after Libya claimed responsibility for PanAm 103 and agreed to pay $2.7 billion to victims’ families. During all that diplomatic wrangling, which was really about–oh, I don’t know…regaining access to Libya’s oil?–efforts were reportedly made to convince Gaddafi that he should release the five nurses and the doctor. But no deal has ever been reached.

Foreign media, including AlJazeera, are reporting that the nurses and doctor were tortured.

The medics have denied the charges in their first and second trials and have repeatedly testified that they were tortured into making confessions. According to Bulgarian newspaper reports, police officers allegedly forced the nurses to undress before them, put insects on their bodies and set dogs on to them.
The five women were also allegedly kept without water and denied sleep in a tiny cell where they had to urinate in a juice box or a plastic bag. Police officers were also said to have threatened to infect them with Aids, the reports said.

Seems a very worthy cause for stirring up some citizen action on the blogs, much as we did to fight ABC’s "Path to 9/11," and to put the spotlight on the goings-on in Libya this week. False charges, mock trials, torture? They are hitting a lot closer to home these days, in Bush Land. I think Declan Butler and the editors of Nature have it right, and I hope we answer their call:

…What is needed is an immediate and sustained mobilization of international opinion, something which has been badly lacking so far. Bloggers, and the scientific community, can help create pressure on the authorities for the immediate release of the Tripoli six: Christiana Malinova Valcheva, Valia Georgieva Cherveniashka, Nasia Stoitcheva Nenova, Valentina Manolova Siropulo, Snezhana Ivanova Dimitrova and Ashraf Ahmad Jum’a.

And here are some other links Butler has put together:

Lawyers without Borders — (In French — BabelFish translation here)
A 2003 independent scientific report on the matter from 2004 by Luc Montagnier, whose group at the Pasteur Institute in Paris discovered HIV, and Vittorio Colizzi, an AIDS researcher at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, which concluded the innocence of the medics, and that the infections were caused by poor hospital hygiene.
A 2004 letter from Luc Montagnier to Mouammar Gaddafi asking him to pardon the Tripoli six. I am centralizing other bloggers posts on the matter at the Tripoli Six tag on Connotea.

For more information, check out Effect Measure today. And let’s stir it up. We might save six lives.

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Jennifer Nix

Jennifer Nix