CIA doctors face human experimentation claims

Abu+Ghraib tortureMedical ethics group says physicians monitored ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and studied their effectiveness

By Ed Pilkington

Doctors and psychologists the CIA employed to monitor its “enhanced interrogation” of terror suspects came close to, and may even have committed, unlawful human experimentation, a medical ethics watchdog has alleged.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a not-for-profit group that has investigated the role of medical personnel in alleged incidents of tortureat Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and other US detention sites, accuses doctors of being far more involved than hitherto understood.

PHR says health professionals participated at every stage in the development, implementation and legal justification of what it calls the CIA’s secret “torture programme”.

The American Medical Association, the largest body of physicians in the US, said it was in open dialogue with the Obama administration and other government agencies over the role of doctors. “The participation of physicians in torture and interrogation is a violation of core ethical values,” it said.

The most incendiary accusation of PHR’s latest report, Aiding Torture, is that doctors actively monitored the CIA’s interrogation techniques with a view to determining their effectiveness, using detainees as human subjects without their consent. The report concludes that such data gathering was “a practice that approaches unlawful experimentation”.

Human experimentation without consent has been prohibited in any setting since 1947, when the Nuremberg Code, which resulted from the prosecution of Nazi doctors, set down 10 sacrosanct principles. The code states that voluntary consent of subjects is essential and that all unnecessary physical and mental suffering should be avoided.

The Geneva conventions also ban medical experiments on prisoners and prisoners of war, which they describe as “grave breaches”. Under CIA guidelines, doctors and psychologists were required to be present during the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees.

In April, a leaked report from the International Committee of the Red Cross found that medical staff employed by the CIA had been present during waterboarding, and had even used what appeared to be a pulse oxymeter, placed on the prisoner’s finger to monitor his oxygen saturation during the procedure. The Red Cross condemned such activities as a “gross breach of medical ethics”. PHR has based its accusation of possible experimentation on the 2004 report of the CIA’s own inspector general into the agency’s interrogation methods, which was finally published two weeks ago after pressure from the courts.

An appendix to the report, marked “top secret”, provides guidelines to employees of the CIA’s internal Office of Medical Services “supporting the detention of terrorists turned over to the CIA for interrogation”.

Medical workers are given the task of “assessing and monitoring the health of all agency detainees” subjected to enhanced techniques. These techniques include facial slaps, sleep deprivation, walling – where their padded heads are banged against walls – confinement in boxes, and waterboarding or simulated drowning.

The guidelines instruct doctors to carry out regular medical checks of detainees. They must ensure that prisoners receive enough food, though diet “need not be palatable”, and monitor their body temperature when placed in “uncomfortably cool environments, ranging from hours to days”.

The most controversial guideline refers to waterboarding, the technique where prisoners are made to feel as though they are drowning by having water poured over a cloth across their face. The guidelines stress that the method carries physical risks, particularly “by days three to five of an aggressive programme”.

PHR is calling for an official investigation into the role of doctors in the CIA’s now widely discredited programme. It wants to know exactly how many doctors participated, what they did, what records they kept and the science that they applied.


• Physicians for Human Rights is a not-for-profit group

Posted at Guardian UK.

9 responses to “CIA doctors face human experimentation claims

  1. So were medical professionals present during the interrogations at the black sites from which the Red Cross was barred?

  2. Jefferson's Guardian

    I guess, along with the Geneva Conventions, the United States leads the cause of sweeping the Hippocratic Oath into the dustbin of irrelevant history?

    Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get worse…

  3. Bawb the Revelator

    Having been and continuing to be a shrink [I now do Volunteer Suicide Prevention at the VA] I can and do abhor torture. Trouble is, there’s a significant difference between LEGAL and ETHICAL

    Do I excuse 43’s WH on ethical grounds? Of course not! WWII Interrogation Teams did not torture Nazis before or after Nuremberg that I’m aware of. The Geneva Convention protocol leaves torture wide open to legal interpretation [see John Yoo]. You may loathe Yoo as an immoral tool [which I do] but no law was broken. The ACLU’s Anthony Romero repeatedly uses “Immorality” [I agree] but has not cited violated statute[s] – which is what lawyers do.

    Nitpicking as this reads and ethically challenged as The Chancellor is [try INCOMPETENT too], “enhanced interrogation” broke no law. In short it’s a diversion from a bigger problem: The Corporatization of my country.

    • Don’t buy it, Bawb.

      “‘enhanced interrogation’ broke no law.”

      if you think the documented acts of rape, murder, and 153 times of being waterboarded breaks no law, you’re from another planet.

      we can’t even have the discussion about what punishment to mete becuz you’re still in denial about what happened.

      Bush Cheney et al need to be treated to the same ending they gave Saddam Hussein —

      war criminals, who are dangerous to all of humanity, walking around free, talking on TV… makes me sick to my stomach.

      you don’t believe they tortured anyone? then you’re not keeping up

      • Bawb the Revelator

        Surely you don’t believe convicting Lindy Englund, her then-BF and the grunts who COMMITTED THE ACTS satifisfies the law. A military court acquitted Gen. Sanchez et al of responsibility for giving the orders to Englund et al. That Court’s decision SUCKS even for the Uniform Code of Military Justice – but that’s not the point. What IS the point IMO is ETHICAL AND NOT LEGAL canons were breached by 43’s WH.

        We’re not far from agreement here, Rady. I just don’t want to give the Holoids at Fox, CNN and MSNBC any more diversionary stuff than they already have. And putting 43’s WH in the Dock will be 100% P.T. Barnum sideshow. So does the USA need out-from-under Corporate healthcare and education less than it needs another divisive shit-storm of an OJ-cum-Clarence-Thomas show trial? I didn’t invent this Hobson’s Choice, I just live here. T’aint perfect but what is?

        Finally have you READ the Geneva Convention protocols? I have. Does any passage thereof specify PROHIBITED TECHNIQUES for obtaining info? I don’t think so – otherwise Atty. Romero of the ACLU [to which I belong] woulda jumped on it like a Rwandan on a Big Mac

  4. @ Bawb ~ my understanding is that the Convention Against Torture is deliberately vague to provide a wide berth between acceptable and illegal behavior. I imagine the same is true of the Geneva Conventions. The idea was no one was to get anywhere near the line between torture and non-torture.

    And we also know that Gonzalez called the Geneva Conventions “quaint.”

    Of course, each defendant would have to be sentenced according to his or her specific role.

    Those psychologists and physicians and other “health professionals [who] were involved at every stage in the development, implementation, and legitimization of this torture program” bear more responsibility – in my mind – than the man or woman who actually committed the torture.

    Surely, we both agree that “health professionals” who “meticulously monitored the waterboarding of detainees to try to improve the technique’s effectiveness, essentially using the detainees as human subjects” is “a practice that approaches unlawful experimentation.”

    None of those detainees gave their consent to this study. The Office of Medical Services needs to be shut down entirely, and a new one created in its place, with new employees and with a specific mission that abides “First, do no harm.”

  5. I know of innocent Christians who were and continued to be tortured off American soil. It is obscene and evil that so many on my caseload from the Church have become ill since such obnoxious government misconduct became enabled during the Regan and Bush administration. The reason this continues is because of inadequate regulatory protections for human being research subjects of all races whom the cia considers niggers, subhumans, or expendable human beings for use idle research curiosity and exploitation. I only pray that God and the court system will intervene. God, I have tried, yet to little avail. I only hope God will intervene.

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