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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/14/10

Did CIA Doctors Commit War Crimes for Bush?

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Not only were terrorism suspects tortured under the Bush administration, it now appears that they were used as human guinea pigs as well.

On June 7, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released a report containing evidence that CIA doctors and other medical personnel engaged in illegal experimentation on prisoners regarding "enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e., torture).

It was apparently part of the Bush administration's lame attempts to justify the unjustifiable. According to the report, as part of the administration's attempts to redefine the "limits" of what constitutes torture, doctors and other medical personnel were "ostensibly responsible for ensuring that the legal threshold for 'severe physical and mental pain' was not crossed by interrogators."

But how do you measure another person's pain and suffering?

According to one of the infamous "torture memos" by the Bush administration lawyers, for an act to constitute torture, the physical pain "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." And the interrogator must have "specifically intended" to cause such severe pain.

Otherwise, claimed the Bushies, it's not torture. It's just "enhanced interrogation". No big deal, they would have us believe. Run along now. (As if we're all so stupid.)

And so, as PHR points out, "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."

Again, they were trying to justify the unjustifiable.

By participating, PHR speculates, these doctors may have been complicit in the commission of war crimes.

Here is how PHR describes some of its alarming findings:

[The 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:

├ éČ Research and medical experimentation on detainees [were] 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."

├ éČ 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.

├ éČ 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."

So there you go. Our tax dollars at work.

How can a physician, who has sworn to do no harm, justify doing this sort of thing?

And will the Obama administration have the guts to do anything about it, as PHR is calling for? (Sadly, I suspect that this will remain merely a rhetorical question.)

The report is available for download in PDF format at Read it if you dare.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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