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Did CIA doctors perform torture research on detainees?

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detainee cia interrogation torture human research experimentationDoctors and other health professionals working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) might have been illegally performing research on detainees after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a new report issued by the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights.

If confirmed, the research would be in violation of the American Common Rule, the Nuremberg Code and other professional, national and international ethical guidelines that ban research on non-consenting human subjects. The CIA has denied that any such research or human experimentation has occurred in its detainee program.

To ensure new "enhanced interrogation" techniques did not cross the line into torture (by causing "severe and long-lasting" pain) after 9/11, the U.S. Department of Justice required health professionals to be present during many CIA interrogation sessions with detainees. But in the process of monitoring, doctors often "collected and analyzed the results of those interrogations, and sought to derive generalizable inferences to be applied to subsequent interrogations," according to the report. And that process, the report authors noted, qualifies as illegal research.

"There is evidence that they were calibrating the harm inflicted by the techniques…and extend[ing] their knowledge of the effectiveness of the techniques," lead report author Nathaniel Raymond, director of the Campaign Against Torture for the group, said in a June 7 teleconference. In the U.S., using human subjects in any research requires approval from an institutional review board (IRB), informed consent of subjects and minimal possibility of harm.

The CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS) guidelines for enhanced interrogation, however, required detailed medical observation of waterboarding and other techniques. And "the OMS policy of compulsory monitoring was followed by a series of revised waterboarding practices" as well as other changes in policy documented in now-public government memos, the report authors noted.

Some of these changes included a switch from water to a salt-water solution, which had not been used in previous, approved training for consenting soldiers (the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program), as well as the use of a special gurney and measurements of blood oxygen levels.

Medical personnel also assessed observational data from 25 detainees who had been "subjected to individual and combined applications" of enhanced interrogation techniques, the authors reported. And the results of this analysis provided generalized findings to support a policy based on the assumption that using more than one enhanced interrogation technique at a time would not increase a detainee’s susceptibility to pain, the authors noted.

The CIA, however, has said that the report’s conclusions are unfounded. "The CIA did not, as part of its past detention program, conduct human subject research on any detainee or group of detainees," Paul Gimigliano, a spokesperson for the agency told The New York Times.

The authors of the report pointed out that they did not uncover any formal plan or mandate to carry out research on detainee subjects, or evidence of "stated hypotheses, methodology, results, and conclusions—the fundamental elements of all legitimate scientific investigation."

Raymond and his colleagues had access only to public documents, many of which had been "heavily blacked out," Allen Keller, a clinician at the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture and co-author on the report, noted during the press conference. And despite the two years of investigation that went into the report, "we simply don’t have detail about what data was collected," said co-author Scott Allen, a co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University.

Any data collection or analysis might be seen as an effort to ensure the ultimate safety of detainees, but the report authors also note that, "the research information gathered was used by government lawyers to create a basis for defending interrogators against potential charges of violating U.S. anti-torture law." And the "medical monitoring would demonstrate, according to the Office of Legal Counsel memos, a lack of intent to cause harm to the subjects of interrogations," Raymond and his colleagues wrote.

Under law, however, whether the medical personnel intended to be doing formal research on the detainees, however, "is irrelevant," Allen said.

He noted that doctors tasked with interrogation observation and analysis were likely under "a tremendous amount of pressure" from those higher up on the chain of command, and a previous report by the group assessed the health professions’ involvement in potentially harmful interrogation techniques. "These techniques are designed to cause harm, cause pain, and cause suffering, so it’s ridiculous to think you can make them safe," Allen noted.

The physicians group has called for a government review of medical professionals’ possible role in conducting human experimentation on detainees, despite the CIA’s Paul Gimigliano’s explanation to the Times that "the entire detention effort has been the subject of multiple, comprehensive reviews within our government, including by the Department of Justice." 

Raymond said: "We’ve shown our evidence. It’s time for the administration to show theirs."

Image of detainees at Guantanamo Bay courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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  1. 1. 5:59 pm 06/7/2010

    Why is this topic in SA? Shame on you!

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  2. 2. sijodk 6:34 pm 06/7/2010

    @John: Why shouldn’t this be on SA? It’s news about research, and relevant to many of the readers.

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  3. 3. 7:37 pm 06/7/2010

    This topic is about as political as you can get. I take that back. How about an article on statistical methods of the 2000 election.? [about the same] Why wade into a subject area because there happens to be a tiny collateral issue that might be in the Science area.

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  4. 4. Smiles 8:15 pm 06/7/2010

    There is simply no doubt that the gov documents show that the CIA and DoD experimented with coercive interrogation. This research was structure; ie it was not just ‘lets do this and see what happens. Physiologic data collection measured the side effects and interrogational efficacy of arduous treatment, e.g., waterboarding. This is clearly described in the CIA documents. A second kind of studies measured emotional pressures and psychological ruses on prisoners (e.g., combining fear and the ruse of"your colleagues have betrayed you" to see how prisoners broke down.
    Aside from the obvious violations of Nuremberg, Geneva, Helsinki and US codes of conduct, the fact of research to improve coercive research unambiguosly signals the intent to continue to refine it for future use.
    Steven Miles, MD, Professor of Medicine, University of Minnesota.

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  5. 5. Soccerdad 10:13 pm 06/7/2010

    Well, if we are going to use "arduous treatment", shouldn’t we have some idea about its effects? I’ll trust the CIA over a bunch leftists with an ax to grind.

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  6. 6. Iahmad 1:54 am 06/8/2010

    It is sad to see that this question is still being asked (after it was proven many times that immoral CIA and its blind supporting scientists tortured victims). It is like asking did scientists help Hitler or did Zionists plot the 9/11 etc. The answer is ibvious yes.

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  7. 7. mike cook 10:27 am 06/9/2010

    Actually, there are doctors who will torture the hell out of you because it is medically necessary. For instance, I was part of a diabetic neuropathy study in which I was deliberately tortured by a Turkish doctor with a diabolical electric shock machine. That was the hardest $100 per hour I have ever earned, maybe that anybody has ever earned!

    Similarly, years ago I witnessed a nurse in a large metropolitan hospital prove to a malingering jail inmate who was pretending to be paralyzed so that she wouldn’t have to return to jail that she could walk. Have you noticed that the other end of the little rubber hammer that they hit your knee cap with to test reflex has a sharp point?

    The nurse hit the bottom of the prisoner’s foot with the sharp end, causing the inmate to say "Ouch, stop that!" to which the nurse would respond, "See, you are not paralyzed, stand and walk!"

    This exchange went on several minutes and each time the nurse would hit the bottom of a foot harder. Finally the disgusted inmate got up and walked out.

    If I wanted to torture someone, (I don’t) I would give them a medicine designed to cause kidney stones, then not offer them any pain med until they told all.

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  8. 8. sbagchee 4:19 pm 06/9/2010

    As a non-US person I have stopped being surprised by any brutality Americans commit in the name of their god and nation. But it still surprises me that the few decent folks who manage to survive there continue to trust ‘government reviews’ of these and many other heinous matters as is asked for by Physicians for Human Rights and similar otherwise-reasonable organizations and individuals in the United States.
    Professor Shyamal Bagchee
    Edmonton, Canada

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  9. 9. Iahmad 2:49 am 06/10/2010

    @John; going by your logic, nothing related to 9/11 should also find a place in SA or for that matter in any science journal. That is also political and not yet know who actually plotted that. Is that what you are advocating.

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  10. 10. Philo 12:22 pm 06/11/2010

    I am a doctor in Germany. We have our own share of history regarding colleagues collaborating in evil practices which the government declared to be "for the country’s good".
    Truth is, every human is able to distinguish what is good and what is evil. The fact that the CIA is hiding many facts demonstrates their awareness that what they do is inhumane.
    All doctor’s associations condemn the participation of their colleagues in torture (the discussion whether waterboarding is torture or not is disgusting) – as in this case their participation serves to legitimate crimes. Therefore I would ask the AMA to revoke the license of any doctor who participated in these acts.
    And YES this is definitely a topic that scientific journals must discuss. If we are not watchguards against abuse of science, who is?

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  11. 11. Jacksony 6:15 am 07/6/2011

    The U.S. Department of Justice plans a full-scale criminal inquiry into two deaths. The two fatalities occurred while in CIA guardianship overseas. The fatalities took place during CIA interrogations. I found this here: <a title="Central Intelligence Agency examined for death of detainees" href="">CIA investigated in two deaths</a>

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