I worked in many developing countries, and in all six regions into which the World Health Organisation divides its programme areas e.g., Africa, the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, South East Asia, and the Western Pacific, respectively.
There are rules governing the activities of international operatives. One such guideline suggests that it is the health care delivery system as a whole that is to be improved, and except under circumstances associated with the need to train, one should refrain from making individuals better off. The goal is to advance the ability of local care providers to carry out the delivery of services to individuals.
This is the protocol that one accepts as reasonable and workable. But, when one is confronted day after day with those dying of diseases and conditions which only under highly exceptional circumstances cause death and morbidity in the developed world ...
My colleagues and I were in one of the poorest areas of one of the poorest countries on earth.
We encountered a mother carrying a listless baby who we surmised was suffering from a gastrointestinal defect or disease. As this infant was terminally-ill, we had to agree a course of action, or do nothing.
By this time, several weeks into our stay, we had all seen enough senseless wasting. I decided to try and get the infant to the nearest hospital. Well, we decided to get this infant to the nearest hospital into which this infant could be admitted. They are not one and the same.
The only hospital we had a chance of reaching in time was a hospital reserved for high government officials, the rich, foreign diplomats, and the like. One of my colleagues said to me as we drove up to the entrance, you know this is not a very good idea.
We have an emergency, I told the receptionist, who looked frankly uncomfortable. I will have to get one of the doctors, wait here, she said as she disappeared with haste down a corridor. Two doctors arrived quickly and upon seeing who we were, one of the doctors after apologising to several of the waiting patients, took the mother and child into the emergency area.
The doctors and nurses went to work. Blood pressure, drips, cultures ... the orderly symphony of motion and sound of an emergency room. And, they had a lot of work to do to save this infant.
Hours later came word that they were going to have to keep the mother and her infant in hospital for at least another day or two. As the doctors walked with us towards the exit, and as we exchanged our mutual appreciations, one of the doctors whispered into my ear, I fear for you. I thanked him for his concern.
A few days later, we received word that our entire delegation had been invited to dine at the presidential palace. We were to assemble at our hotel and transportation would be provided at the appointed hour.
A small bus appeared and we started to get on, when a gentleman approached me and said, please come with us. The rear passenger side door was opened for me and I was asked to be seated. Someone sat opposite me, behind the driver, and when the driver and the other occupant of the front seat were settled in, the driver locked all the doors.
We sat in silence while the driver got under way, after several minutes the gentleman sitting opposite me introduced himself as one of the palace guards. He asked me if I had ever heard the story of the 'innocent man'. This was a rhetorical question, an attention getting exercise, and he had my attention.
We do not have, he continued, the man-power that the American army, or those British fighting forces have. We have to use our limited resources well. We have to use our wits, as it were. If we want to control a village, we go to that village and find someone that everyone knows to be innocent, and we take him and meet out the strongest punishment upon him. That way everyone understands that if we would do that to an innocent man, well ... let us say it concentrates the mind to contemplate what might befall someone who would actually oppose us. We can effectively control a very large area with very few men in this way.
We sat in silence for the duration of the drive to the palace.
Seating and decorations on dinner table were so arranged that the president did not have line of sight to where I was seated.
After dinner we moved from the dining area through an anteroom into another larger room with a fireplace. The kind of room designed for more leisurely conversations to take place.
After we were all made comfortable, the president began by stating what he understood, and correctly, to be the proper protocol for international operatives working in his country. He suggested that those rules, those agreed guidelines had been transgressed by the actions at the hospital.
An uneasy quite gripped the room. Everyone knew that he was talking to, and about me. I waited for someone to break the silence, but no one did.
After what seemed an eternity, I politely asked the president if he would permit me to ask him just one question. He leaned against the mantel which seemed to have been perfectly constructed so that he could do so while assuming a commanding pose.
Yes, he replied.
Mr President, I asked, are you an innocent man?
Within seconds a palace guard approached me saying that I had an urgent telephone call, and escorted me out of the room, out of the palace and into a waiting car.
We drove for sometime before I realised that we were not heading back to the hotel, but that we were going in the direction of the airport.
We arrived at the airport and a second guard removed by bags from the boot. With a guard on both sides of me, and another with my bags behind us, we entered the terminal hall. Wait here, came instructions from one of the guards while the other went up to the check-in counter.
He returned, and said, follow me. We walk down a very long hall, then down some stairs, through a door and we were on the tarmac. A crew was busy setting the stairs to the front side door of a plane. Once in position the door opened and two guards, one with my bags ascended the steps.
They came back down, each in turn shaking hands with me, and then one of them signaled for me to climb the steps. The pilot met me at the top, and a flight attendant said please follow me, we have to take off now. The door closed and we began taxing down the runway.
The news that the Taleban had hung a 7 year-old boy in a small village in Southern Afghanistan brought the memory of the ínnocent man´lecture I had received from the palace gaurd.
' . . . an innocent child '
It must be remembered that terrorism is not about politics, it is about exercising power. Killing is a tool of control, and the killing of innocents is about delivering a message - if they will do that to someone that everyone knows is innocent, what would befall someone who would actually oppose them.
A few years ago a bomb was placed in the backpack of a child designed to go off as he passed a border check point to get to his school in Israel.
There is no justification for killing children, or using children as fodder in an adult war.
We are faced with an enemy that, having tasted blood, now finds sanguinary excess - a way of life. I trust that the murderers of the 7 year old are not the Taleban that Karzai wants to negotiate with.
But while, Fox/Murdoch et al want to withhold needed medical services from the children of undocumented Mexicans, we have little room as Americans to claim the moral high ground.
There is no justification not to - suffer the little children.