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  Torture Research and Experimentation: Official Policy under Bush and Obama


Torture Research and Experimentation: Official Policy under Bush and Obama

by Stephen Lendman
Saturday, 12 June 2010
It's America's longstanding practice - exonerate the guilty, punish the innocent, and trash the rule of law and common decency. Obama succeeds with the best of them in upholding an unprincipled, degenerate tradition.

Nazi and imperial Japanese doctors performed horrific human experiments on unwilling subjects. At Auschwitz and other death camps, Josef Mengele, Carl Clauberg, Herta Oberheuser, Karl Brandt, Aribert Heim and others conducted ones involving freezing temperatures, toxic chemicals and gas, sterilizations, high altitudes, radiation, electroshock, starvation, amputations, bone, muscle and nerve transplants, and numerous other atrocities called crimes of war and against humanity at Nuremberg.

At its infamous Unit 731, Japanese doctors and scientists did their own, involving vivisections, germ and other forms of biological warfare, toxic chemicals, and other atrocities causing severe pain, disease and certain death. Yet in 1945, General Douglas MacArthur agreed secretly with Dr. Shiro Ishil to turn over 10,000 pages of human experimentation information in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Justice for their victims was denied.

Today and since the early 1950s, CIA operatives conducted physically harsh and psychologically crippling mind control experiments, turning human beings into mush, a topic this writer addressed earlier.

In addition, for decades, CIA and other US agencies experimented illegally with human subjects, including:

  • in 1931, Dr. Cornelius Rhoads conducted radiation and cancer cell injection experiments;
  • in 1932, Tuskegee Syphilis Study doctors infected 200 black men with the disease, followed their progression, and let them die untreated;
  • in 1940, 400 Chicago prisoners were infected with malaria to test experimental drugs;
  • numerous human radiation experiments have been conducted on unwitting subjects;
  • VA hospital patients were used as human guinea pigs;
  • chemical and biological agents were released in US cities, and other similar experiments were conducted;
  • US military personnel have been given experimental vaccines and other drugs, known to be toxic;
  • numerous experiments with human subjects tested mustard and nerve gas, ionizing radiation, psychochemicals, hallucinogens, and other dangerous substances;
  • others injected radiation into newborns, placed mentally ill patients in giant refrigerators, infected children with hepatitis, performed surgeries without anesthesia, subjected prisoners to plague, infected them with cholera, injected soldiers with plutonium (the most toxic known substance) as part of the Manhattan Project, used children, prisoners, and the mentally ill for ghastly experiments; and
  • at US torture prisons, horrific tortures and illegal medical experiments continue being used on unwilling subjects.
New Physicians for Human Rights Report

Founded in 1986, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) "mobilizes health professionals to advance health, dignity, and justice and promotes the right to health for all. (It also) investigates human rights abuses and works to stop them" in conflict zones, US prisons, and offshore detention facilities where torture is routinely practiced.

Its newly released report, "Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the 'Enhanced' Interrogation Program" examines Bush administration practices post-9/11, saying:

In its aftermath, new "human intelligence collection programs" were initiated, using "an unknown number of people suspected of having links to terrorist organizations."

Most all accusations were bogus, yet detainees were subjected to horrific waterboarding, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, stress positions, prolonged isolation, and other horrific abuses, regarded as illegal under international and US law at all times, under all conditions, with no allowed exceptions. Nonetheless, Bush administration officials claimed procedures used were "safe, legal and effective" enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs).

Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) lawyers redefined practices "by establishing legal (torture) thresholds....which required medical monitoring (to ensure ones) for severe physical and mental pain" weren't crossed...."

In other words, medical professionals participated in illegal torture experiments by monitoring, collecting and analyzing results, to be used in subsequent interrogations, in violation of unequivocal US and international law, including Geneva's Common Article 3 prohibiting:

  • "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture:
  • outrages of personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;"
  • carrying out sentences or executions "without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples;" and
  • caring for the wounded and sick, including by an impartial body like the ICRC "offer(ing) its services to the Parties to the conflict."

Condoning or participating in torture grievously breaches medical ethics and the 1975 World Medical Association (WMA) Declaration of Tokyo "Guidelines for Physicians Concerning Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Relation to Detention and Imprisonment," stating:

  • in all cases, at all times, "physician(s) shall not countenance, condone or participate in" torture or any other forms of abuse;
  • they "shall not use nor allow (their) medical knowledge or skills, or health information" to be used to aid interrogations in any way;
  • they "shall not be present during any procedure during which torture or any other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (are) used or threatened;"
  • they "must have complete clinical independence" in treating persons for whom they're medically responsible; and
  • WMA encourages the international community and fellow physicians to support medical professionals who face "threats or reprisals resulting from a refusal to condone" all forms of torture and abuse."

Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions states:

"Persons engaged in medical activities shall neither be compelled to perform acts or to carry out work contrary to, nor be compelled to refrain from acts required by, the rules of medical ethics or other rules designed for the benefit of the wounded and sick, or this Protocol."

PHR's report examined three illegal and unethical medical practices:

  1. monitoring to "design, develop, and deploy (new) waterboarding procedures;"
  2. the effects of "simultaneous versus sequential" interrogation procedures to determine the "susceptibility of the subjects to severe pain;" and
  3. the effects of "sleep deprivation (to establish) enhanced interrogation....sleep deprivation policy."

Research purposes were to gain increased information, ostensibly assure pain levels remained within legal thresholds, and most important to provide legal cover against possible incrimination, using doctors to verify no harm was done.

PHR's report shows health professionals weren't just complicit in torture, they also participated in research and experimentation on detainees in US custody. In other words, human beings were (and still are being) used as guinea pigs. Public documents prove it, including memoranda from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and the CIA's Office of Inspector General Special Review of the Agency's Enhanced Interrogation Program.

Relevant Laws Governing Research and Experimentation, Using Human Subjects

US 45 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 46.1029d (2005) defines research to mean:

"....a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge. Activities which meet this definition constitute research for purposes of this policy, whether or not they are conducted or supported under a program which is considered research for other purposes."

The same regulation defines human subject research as:

using "a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains:

  1. data through intervention or interaction with the individual, or
  2. identifiable private information."

In all cases, subject protections, informed consent, direct benefit to the participants, and an institutional review board (IRB) approval are required. Otherwise, human subject experimentation breaches the Nuremberg Code and other internationally recognized regulations and ethical guidelines. In addition, doing so constitutes a crime of war and/or against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

No information indicates that the Bush administration sought or received formal authorization for its practices. Also, neither the CIA or DOD ever filed a waiver for informed consent, as required by federal regulations.

In addition, the CIA's Office of Medical Services (OMS) made public a formal research protocol. However, DOJ memos and other government documents reveal a classified medical monitoring program, involving "the meticulous collection and analysis of data to derive generalizable knowledge," relating to the "safety" and effects of torture techniques.

However, under US and international law and accepted medical ethics, non-clinical human experimentation, with or without subjects' consent, is impermissible. "In fact, the 'enhanced' interrogation techniques are premised on the infliction of mental (and physical) harm, so" experiments to make them safe and effective are legally and ethically groundless and indefensible.

Instances of Illegal and Unethical Human Subject Research and Experimentation

Medical personnel involvement in waterboarding was undertaken to "disguise a universally recognized torture tactic as a 'safe, legal and effective' interrogation" technique. One CIA guideline directs participants to record:

" long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was applied (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied, and if a seal was achieved, if the naso-or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the subject looked between each treatment."

In his 2005 "combined techniques" memo, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven G. Bradbury told Acting CIA General Counsel John A. Rizzo that experimentation determined that waterboarding healthy subjects, subject to defined limitations, is "medically acceptable."

A later version, "Waterboarding 2.0," came after CIA developed and tested an intentionally harmful practice, using medical monitoring for cover.

Health professionals also analyzed data based on observed enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) on 25 detainees, performed to determine subjects' susceptibility to severe pain.

"This investigation had no direct clinical health care application, nor was it in the detainees' personal interest nor part of their medical management." It was conducted solely to argue that the EITs in combination wouldn't make subjects more susceptible to pain, to justify their use.

Human Research and Experimentation Purposes

PHR cited three:

  1. to learn how EITs should be deployed as interrogation torture techniques designed to be "safe (and) effective," or, in other words, an impossible combination.
  2. to calibrate the pain level caused by techniques used to keep it from crossing the threshold defined as torture, the idea being to defend interrogators against possible crimes. OLC lawyers defined torture as causing "long-term" mental or physical "pain and suffering," enough to cause organ failure or death.
  3. to craft legal defenses against charges of torture, arguing that medical monitoring removes the element of intent, necessary to prove to pursue successful torture prosecutions under US law.

"But in attempting to legitimize the crime of torture, the lawyers left those who authorized and performed the research open to the charge of illegal human experimentation," as well as an unconscionable medical ethics breach.

Human Experimentation and Human Subject Protections

Under George Bush, torture became official US policy, a topic this writer addressed in July 2008.

By executive orders, presidential findings, memoranda, memos, and other documents, Bush's "doctrine of presidential prerogative" made everything permissible, supplemented by Congress enacting laws like the Military Commissions Act - called the "torture authorization act" by exempting CIA torturers from prosecution.

The law amended the 1966 War Crimes Act (defining them as breaches of Geneva that unequivocally prohibits torture), made it retroactive to 1997, with language banning:

"The act of a person who subjects, or conspires or attempts to subject, one or more persons within his custody or physical control to biological experiments without a legitimate medical or dental purpose and in so doing endangers the body or health of such person or persons."

The new language lowered the bar on experimentation through a loophole permitting so-called "legitimate" kinds, unrelated to detainees' well being.

Yet human subject protections are codified in US law (45 CFR 46.101-46.124 - 2005) as well as codes of professional conduct - collectively called the Common Rule, applying to all federally funded human experimentation, including CIA and DOD practices.

None may be conducted without subjects' consent and unless safe and beneficial to their welfare. Research and experiments amounting to torture clearly are not, and thus violate US and international law as well as established medical ethics.

Despite Obama's January 22, 2009 executive order prohibiting most "enhanced interrogation techniques" and his rhetoric at the time, he's continued the most extreme Bush administration abuses, (including so-called "safe, legal and effective" ones) - what PHR concluded are crimes of war and against humanity. Claiming health professionals protect detainees through systematic monitoring "is not only inherently contradictory but also a perversion of centuries of health professional ethics."

PHR calls on the White House and Congress to investigate thoroughly and hold those involved accountable. It also recommends restoring previous War Crimes Act language, and urges strict policies be adopted that prohibit all forms of torture and improper treatment as well as ensuring the human rights of all those in US custody.

Final Comments

Under George Bush, torture became official policy. It remains so under Obama throughout America's offshore gulag on US bases, ships, facilities of complicit allies, and other secret locations worldwide.

He also absolved CIA torturers from prosecution, saying he wants to look forward, not back, so will do anything to protect them and the worst of their practices, denying their victims justice like his predecessor and those before him.

It's America's longstanding practice - exonerate the guilty, punish the innocent, and trash the rule of law and common decency. Obama succeeds with the best of them in upholding an unprincipled, degenerate tradition.

Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at His blog is

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.

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This story was published on June 12, 2010.

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