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Medical Photography

One helpful tool in the documentation of physical evidence of torture is photography. It may be possible to ask experts elsewhere to comment on photographs if there is no local expertise available to interpret them. Those interviewing in custodial settings may not be permitted to use such equipment, but it can sometimes be negotiated with the detaining authorities. If photography is not possible, drawings and diagrams can be useful.

When working with a person who is alleging recent torture, it is very helpful to be able to document the injuries as quickly as possible, before any change occurs. Any photographic equipment can be used to capture a wound in the first instance and more photographs can be taken later, with a better camera if possible.

The subject of clinical photography must consent to having the pictures taken and agree about how the photographs will be stored and used.

The first photograph should show the individual clearly with, if possible, the lesions visible to allow identification in court if necessary. The front page of a recent newspaper (or other object of verifiable age) can demonstrate that the photograph was not taken prior to that date. If there are date and time settings on the camera, these should be used correctly. There should always be an indicator of scale for close-up images. A tape measure is best but, if necessary, any well-known object of standard size can be used, such as a 35mm film canister or a coin. In photographs taken using the camera’s built-in flash, wounds tend to be obscured. It is better to work in daylight or to use background lighting.

Digital cameras allow many photographs to be taken using different angles and lighting conditions and the best produced as evidence, although every image taken should be stored securely (for example, on a secure computer, with password protection). Films can also be useful as courts have not generally agreed how digital images should be treated as evidence. Digital images and scanned prints can be useful as they can be e-mailed to experts for an opinion. If necessary they can be cropped and enlarged, but the original version must always be retained. Further interference must be avoided as allegations of manipulation are difficult to refute.

Once the photographs have been taken, the chain of custody of the images must be ensured. A ‘chain of custody’ is a detailed record showing the exact date, time and location in which a piece of evidence entered the possession of different individuals. A chain of custody aims to prevent outside interference with evidence. It may be valuable to add to a witness statement a phrase such as: ‘I took photographs of [name] on [date] using my [type] digital camera. I kept it in my possession until I transferred the images to [X] directory on [X] computer. To the best of my knowledge it has not been tampered with, and the photographs in this report were made from that file.’