Reason contributor Terry Michael investigates a military trial in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina that ended with the acquittal of an Army sergeant of charges that he didn't inform sexual partners of his positive HIV status.
Expert witnesses raised doubts about the general validity of HIV tests during the May aggravated assault trial of the NCO referred to by supporters (Michael provides his full name) discreetly as "Sgt. TD." It also seems the prosecution either didn't mount or wasn't allowed to mount a strong attack:
An 8-year Army veteran, Dixon spent 247 days in pre-trial custody after charges brought in 2011, when he was arrested after a former girlfriend accused him of assault and battery, for throwing a plastic bottle at her during an argument. Judge Batdorf found Dixon guilty of that physical assault charge, unrelated to HIV status disclosure, and sentenced him to 120 days (waived for time he had already served.). The arrest resulted in Dixon’s “status” later being revealed, to other women identified as former sexual partners. There was no testimony in the trial from any of the women disputing Dixon’s claim that he used condoms.
There also was no testimony from any of the women that they had contracted HIV from Sgt. Dixon. The defense introduced into evidence a1997 scientific paper by Dr. Nancy Padian from the Univ. of California-San Francisco, who studied the potential for transmission of HIV in 176 “sero-discordant” heterosexual couples, where one partner was HIV-positive and the other HIV-negative, and not one of the subjects ever contracted HIV through sex.
Defense lawyers got support from Clark Baker's Office of Medical and Scientific Justice and testimony from Dr. Nancy Turner Banks, an OB/GYN and skeptic of HIV testing who focuses on the unexplained disparities in positive HIV tests between blacks and whites:
The black-white disparity phenomenon is documented by the Centers for Disease Control, which at its web page “HIV among African Americans” (Feb. 27, 2012 update) noted that, “The estimated rate of new HIV infection for black men was more than six and a half times as high as that of white men,” and that for black women the rate was “more than 15 times as high as the rate for white women.”
Sgt. Dixon was subjected to blood testing with standard assays that are routinely used in the medical community for declaring infection with HIV. He tested “positive” for HIV antibodies, twice on HIV Rapid Tests, twice on the ELISA, and twice on the so-called “confirmatory” Western Blot. He also tested positive twice on the so-called “viral load” test, using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process to test for a small fragment of genetic material believed to be part of the genome of the retrovirus known since the mid-1980's as the human immunodeficiency virus, or “HIV.”
In an interview after the trial, Dr. Richards said, "During my testimony, I highlighted that none of the tests used on Sgt. Dixon are validated or approved by the FDA for use in diagnosing actual infection with HIV. I also emphasized that, according to package inserts of manufacturers of the so-called confirmatory Western Blot test used to diagnose Sgt. Dixon, persons with positive results are only 'presumed to be positive for antibodies to HIV,' and in accordance with CDC guidelines put forth in 1987, are further 'presumed to be infected with the virus.' " According to Richards, "In the absence of any symptoms to inform a medical diagnosis, the link between HIV and a positive Western Blot is nothing more than one presumption layered on top of another presumption."
I presume, because he declines to use the polite "Sgt. DT" phrasing, that Michael agrees with the consensus that HIV skeptics are crackpots.* But I may presume too much. He also uses the novel-to-me phrase "HIV disease" (isn't that AIDS?) and gives a very strong hearing to the other side. I keep my cowardly place within the consensus, but several times this article made me say, "Well paint me white and call me a t-cell!"
Dixon's acquittal, Michael argues, may be an early step toward revisiting many of the laws designed to slow the spread of the immunodeficiency virus that have been adopted since the 1980s.
Update: I did presume too much. No offense intended to HIV traditionalists, revisionists or agnostics.