Wednesday, September 28, 2011

South African State Pays Legal Bills for Racist Apartheid-era Biological Weapons Developer

State foots bill for Basson's defence


The state is paying for Wouter Basson's legal representation at the inquiry by the Health Professions Council of South Africa into his alleged unethical conduct.

The HPCSA has charged Basson with manufacturing dangerous chemical weapons, "weaponising thousands of 120mm mortars with teargas to be sold in Angola", and distributing cyanide so soldiers could commit suicide if caught.

He is also charged with providing "disorientating substances to tranquilise people" who were to be kidnapped in neighbouring countries.

Basson was head of the government's chemical and biological warfare research programme, Project Coast, from 1981 to early 1993. In 2002, he was acquitted in the Pretoria high court of a raft of criminal charges ranging from murder and fraud to drug trafficking. He now runs a cardiology practice in Durbanville outside Cape Town.

The HPCSA hearing now under way is not a criminal trial but a professional conduct enquiry.

Justice ministry spokesperson Tlali Tlali told the Mail and Guardian on Wednesday that the Department of Defence had indicated "a few of years ago" that it would pay for Basson's defence.

The HPCSA first charged Basson with unethical conduct in 2007. In 2008 Basson approached the Pretoria high court to have them stop the hearing. Last year, the high court ruled that the HPCSA's hearing could continue.

'Basson's work caused death'

According to US bioethics expert Professor Steven Miles, Basson used his medical knowledge to destroy life while he was head of Coast.

"The ethical core of medicine is to promote health. Dr Basson's work caused death and imminent death and brain damage," Miles told the HPCSA hearing on Tuesday.

Appearing as a witness for the prosecution, Miles argued that Basson's actions were contrary to international ethical conventions governing doctors' behaviour, including the World Medical Association, to which South Africa is a signatory -- and was a signatory at the time of Basson's alleged actions.

Miles is professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and former president of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities. The council invited him to act as a key witness because of his "ability to examine medical ethics in an international context", said HPSCA spokesperson Lize Nel.

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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