/ 29 September 2011

Despite military post, Basson ‘acted as a medic’

Despite Military Post

Dr Wouter Basson acted in his capacity as a doctor when he provided tranquilisers to help kidnap people and was not merely a soldier, according to expert witness for the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), Professor Steven Miles.

Dr Basson is facing having his medical licence revoked by the HPCSA for unethical conduct during his time as head of the apartheid chemical and biological weapons unit from 1981 to1993, Project Coast.

He currently runs a cardiology practice in Cape Town.

During a criminal trial that ended with his acquittal in 2002 on charges of, among others, murder, fraud and kidnap, witnesses testified that Project Coast had provided tranquilisers used on South African Defence Force (SADF) prisoners before they were taken on helicopters and dropped into the ocean to drown. During TRC hearings into Project Coast, it was also alleged that that Basson had attempted to create biological weapons to wipe out black people.

On Thursday, Professor Steven Miles remained adamant that Basson had acted then as a physician and not merely as member of the military carrying out orders from the SADF.

As Basson’s attorney Jaap Cilliers grilled him for a second day, Miles calmly answered the questions put to him, refusing to be caught out.

Miles’s testimony hinges on the fact that Basson was a doctor and was therefore subject to medical ethics codes in place at the time.

“Medical ethics are the same in times of peace as they are at war,” he has consistently stated.

But Cilliers, whose work as Basson’s laweyer is paid for by the state, has persistently tried to discredit Miles testimony.

On Thursday he argued that Basson was acting as a soldier during his time at Project Coast and therefore not subject to medical ethics but military ethics.

And on Thursday afternoon, Cilliers repeatedly asking Miles to explain to him, why Basson was unethical when providing a “drug to someone to kidnap them?

“On what basis do you say it is not in the interest of the guard to put him to sleep rather than cut his throat?” he asked.

Cilliers was arguing that by Basson providing tranquilisers to assist in kidnappings, he was saving the victim’s life as they couldn’t resist and be killed instead.

But Miles argued that ultimately kidnapping “was not in a person’s interest”.

Lawyer for the prosecution, Salie Joubert thought the line of questioning was unreasonable “Cilliers is suggesting the person is lucky because they are not getting killed,” he complained.

Cilliers cut short his cross examination of the prosecution’s only witness on Thursday but has assured the ruling panel he would finish up on Friday.

The hearing is expected to be postponed until 2012 as it will not be completed by Friday, according to the HPCSA’s spokesperson, Lize Nel.