Evidence Indicates that the Bush Administration Conducted Experiments and Research on Detainees to Design Torture Techniques and Create Legal Cover
June 7, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Illegal Activity Would Violate Nuremberg Code and Could Open Door to Prosecution
bgreenberg at phrusa dot org
(Cambridge, MA) In the most comprehensive investigation to date of health professionals’ involvement in the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation program (EIP), Physicians For Human Rights has uncovered evidence that indicates the Bush administration apparently conducted illegal and unethical human experimentation and research on detainees in CIA custody. The apparent experimentation and research appear to have been performed to provide legal cover for torture, as well as to help justify and shape future procedures and policies governing the use of the “enhanced” interrogation techniques. The PHR report, Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, is the first to provide evidence that CIA medical personnel engaged in the crime of illegal experimentation after 9/11, in addition to the previously disclosed crime of torture.
This evidence indicating apparent research and experimentation on detainees opens the door to potential additional legal liability for the CIA and Bush-era officials. There is no publicly available evidence that the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel determined that the alleged experimentation and research performed on detainees was lawful, as it did with the “enhanced” techniques themselves.
“The CIA appears to have broken all accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War to protect prisoners from being the subjects of experimentation,” said Frank Donaghue, PHR’s Chief Executive Officer. “Not only are these alleged acts gross violations of human rights law, they are a grave affront to America’s core values.”
Physicians for Human Rights demands that President Obama direct the Attorney General to investigate these allegations, and if a crime is found to have been committed, prosecute those responsible. Additionally, Congress must immediately amend the War Crimes Act (WCA) to remove changes made to the WCA in 2006 by the Bush Administration that allow a more permissive definition of the crime of illegal experimentation on detainees in US custody. The more lenient 2006 language of the WCA was made retroactive to all acts committed by US personnel since 1997.
“In their attempt to justify the war crime of torture, the CIA appears to have committed another alleged war crime – illegal experimentation on prisoners,” said Nathaniel A. Raymond, Director of PHR’s Campaign Against Torture and lead report author. “Justice Department lawyers appear to never have assessed the lawfulness of the alleged research on detainees in CIA custody, despite how essential it appears to have been to their legal cover for torture.”
PHR’s report, Experiments in Torture, is relevant to present-day national security interrogations, as well as Bush-era detainee treatment policies. As recently as February, 2010, President Obama’s then director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, disclosed that the US had established an elite interrogation unit that will conduct “scientific research” to improve the questioning of suspected terrorists. Admiral Blair declined to provide important details about this effort.
“If health professionals participated in unethical human subject research and experimentation they should be held to account,” stated Scott A. Allen, MD, a medical advisor to Physicians for Human Rights and lead medical author of the report. “Any health professional who violates their ethical codes by employing their professional expertise to calibrate and study the infliction of harm disgraces the health profession and makes a mockery of the practice of medicine.”
Several prominent individuals and organizations in addition to PHR will file a complaint this week with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) and call for an OHRP investigation of the CIA’s Office of Medical Services.
The PHR report indicates that there is evidence that health professionals engaged in research on detainees that violates the Geneva Conventions, The Common Rule, the Nuremberg Code and other international and domestic prohibitions against illegal human subject research and experimentation. Declassified government documents indicate that:
- Research and medical experimentation on detainees was used to measure the effects of large- volume waterboarding and adjust the procedure according to the results. After medical monitoring and advice, the CIA experimentally added saline, in an attempt to prevent putting detainees in a coma or killing them through over-ingestion of large amounts of plain water. The report observes: “‘Waterboarding 2.0’ was the product of the CIA’s developing and field-testing an intentionally harmful practice, using systematic medical monitoring and the application of subsequent generalizable knowledge.”
- Health professionals monitored sleep deprivation on more than a dozen detainees in 48-, 96- and 180-hour increments. This research was apparently used to monitor and assess the effects of varying levels of sleep deprivation to support legal definitions of torture and to plan future sleep deprivation techniques.
- Health professionals appear to have analyzed data, based on their observations of 25 detainees who were subjected to individual and combined applications of “enhanced” interrogation techniques, to determine whether one type of application over another would increase the subject’s “susceptibility to severe pain.” The alleged research appears to have been undertaken only to assess the legality of the “enhanced” interrogation tactics and to guide future application of the techniques.
Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program is the most in-depth expert review to date of the legal and medical ethics issues concerning health professionals’ involvement in researching, designing and supervising the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation program. The Experiments in Torture report is the result of six months of investigation and the review of thousands of pages of government documents. It has been peer-reviewed by outside experts in the medical, biomedical and research ethics fields, legal experts, health professionals and experts in the treatment of torture survivors.
The lead author for this report was Nathaniel Raymond, Director of the Campaign Against Torture, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the lead medical author was Scott Allen, MD, Co-Director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University and Medical Advisor to PHR. They were joined in its writing by Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD, PHR Senior Medical Advisor; Allen Keller, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, NYU School of Medicine, Director, Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture; Stephen Soldz, PhD, President-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility and Director of the Center for Research, Evaluation and Program Development at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis; Steven Reisner, PhD, PHR Advisor on Ethics and Psychology; and John Bradshaw, JD, PHR Chief Policy Officer and Director of PHR’s Washington Office.
The report was extensively peer reviewed by leading experts in related medical, legal, ethical and governmental fields addressed in the document.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush administration initiated new human intelligence collection programs. To that end, it detained and questioned an unknown number of people suspected of having links to terrorist organizations. As part of these programs, the Bush administration redefined acts, such as waterboarding, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, stress positions and prolonged isolation, that had previously been recognized as illegal, to be “safe, legal and effective” “enhanced” interrogation techniques (EITs).
Bush administration lawyers at the Department of Justice’s (DoJ’s) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) accomplished this redefinition by establishing legal thresholds for torture, which required medical monitoring of every application of “enhanced” interrogation. Medical personnel were ostensibly responsible for ensuring that the legal threshold for “severe physical and mental pain” was not crossed by interrogators, but their presence and complicity in intentionally harmful interrogation practices were not only apparently intended to enable the routine practice of torture, but also to serve as a potential legal defense against criminal liability for torture.
Investigation and analysis of US government documents by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) provides evidence indicating that the Bush administration, in the period after Sept. 11, conducted human research and experimentation on prisoners in US custody as part of this monitoring role. Health professionals working for and on behalf of the CIA monitored the interrogations of detainees, collected and analyzed the results of those interrogations, and sought to derive generalizable inferences to be applied to subsequent interrogations. Such acts may be seen as the conduct of research and experimentation by health professionals on prisoners, which could violate accepted standards of medical ethics, as well as domestic and international law. These practices could, in some cases, constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The knowledge obtained through this process appears to have been motivated by a need to justify and to shape future interrogation policy and procedure, as well as to justify and to shape the legal environment in which the interrogation program operated.
PHR analyzes three instances of apparent illegal and unethical human subject research for this report:
- Medical personnel were required to monitor all waterboarding practices and collect detailed medical information that was used to design, develop, and deploy subsequent waterboarding procedures;
- Information on the effects of simultaneous versus sequential application of the interrogation techniques on detainees was collected and used to establish the policy for using tactics in combination. These data were gathered through an assessment of the presumed “susceptibility” of the subjects to severe pain;
- Information collected by health professionals on the effects of sleep deprivation on detainees was used to establish the “enhanced” interrogation program’s (EIP) sleep deprivation policy.
The human subject research apparently served several purposes. It increased information on the physical and psychological impact of the CIA’s application of the “enhanced” interrogation techniques, which previously had been limited mostly to data from experiments using US military volunteers under very limited, simulated conditions of torture. It served to calibrate the level of pain experienced by detainees during interrogation, ostensibly to keep it from crossing the administration’s legal threshold of what it claimed constituted torture. It also served as an attempt to provide a basis for a legal defense against possible torture charges against those who carried out the interrogations, since medical monitoring would demonstrate, according to the Office of Legal Counsel memos, a lack of intent to cause harm to the subjects of interrogations.
Yet the Bush administration’s legal framework to protect CIA interrogators from violating US statutory and treaty obligations prohibiting torture effectively contravened well-established legal and ethical codes, that, had they been enforced, should have protected prisoners against human experimentation, and should have prevented the “enhanced” interrogation program from being initiated in the first place. There is no evidence that the Office of Legal Counsel ever assessed the lawfulness of the medical monitoring of torture, as it did with the use of the “enhanced” techniques themselves.
The use of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment in interrogations of detainees in US custody has been well-documented by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and others. The role of health professionals in designing, monitoring and participating in torture also has been investigated and publicly documented. This current report provides evidence that in addition to medical complicity in torture, health professionals participated in research and experimentation on detainees in US custody.
The use of human beings as research subjects has a long and disturbing history filled with misguided and often willfully unethical experimentation. Ethical codes and federal regulations have been established to protect human subjects from harm and include clear standards for informed consent of participants in research, an absence of coercion, and a requirement for rigorous scientific procedures. The essence of the ethical and legal protections for human subjects is that the subjects, especially vulnerable populations such as prisoners, must be treated with the dignity befitting human beings and not simply as experimental guinea pigs.
The use of health professionals to monitor intentionally harmful interrogation techniques places them in the service of national security objectives which are in conflict with the interests of those who they are monitoring. The result has been a co-opting of health professionals by the national security apparatus and a violation of the highest medical admonition to “do no harm.” Until the questions examined in this paper are answered and, if ethical violations or crimes were committed, those responsible are held accountable, the misuse of medical and scientific expertise for expedient and non-therapeutic goals jeopardizes the ethical integrity of the profession, and the public trust in the healing professions risks being seriously compromised.