Harm Through Those Supposed To Heal

Exploring Harm as an Analytical Concept in Violence Research Through Cases of Medical Involvement in Torture from Syria


  • Verena Muckermann




medical involvement in torture, torture doctoring, Syrian prison system, military hospitals, harm as an analytical concept


This article bases its findings on an extensive praxeological reconstruction of medical involvement in torture in Syria since 2011. The research was conducted from 2021–2023 by examining reports of human rights organisations and activists, the accounts of survivors as well as trial reports and academic literature. After outlining an inexhaustive list of prevalent patterns of medical involvement in torture compiled for the overall reconstruction of this practice, three prevalent patterns will be portrayed more closely.

These patterns suggest benefits and research-stimulating open questions resulting from exploratively employing harm as an analytical concept in violence research: (1.) Medical negligence and arbitrary treatment, (2.) anamnesis and the exploitation of medical history, and (3.) the broader pattern of transporting people to and detaining them in military hospitals.

This article supposes that employing harm as an analytical concept in violence research can free us from too narrow (legal) categories, allows us to look beyond over-simplified dichotomies of perpetrators and victims, enables us to discuss epistemic impacts of the practice, and further allows us to revisit definitions like the one of medical involvement in torture.