(Illustration: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)
High-value detainees captured during the Bush administration's "war on terror," who were subjected to brutal torture techniques, were used as "guinea pigs" to gauge the effectiveness of various torture techniques, a practice that has raised troubling comparisons to Nazi-era human experimentation. according to a disturbing new report released by Physicians for Human Rights, an international doctors' organization.
PHR, based in Massachusetts, called on President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and the US Congress to launch investigations into the role of physicians and psychiatric experts in the monitoring and assessments of the brutal interrogations.
"Health professionals working for and on behalf of the CIA monitored the interrogations of detainees, collected and analyzed the results of [the] interrogations, and sought to derive generalizable inferences to be applied to subsequent interrogations," said the 27-page report, entitled "Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the 'Enhanced' Interrogation Program." "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 report is based on extensive research of previously declassified government documents that shows the crucial role medical personnel played in establishing and justifying the legality of the Bush administration's torture program. Many of the details contained in the document has already been painstakingly documented by Marcy Wheeler at her blog Emptywheel, and Truthout's own Jeffrey Kaye on his blog Invictus and in articles published on this web site and at Firedoglake.
Written by medical and psychological experts, some of who have worked with victims of torture, the report said the research and experimentation on detainees violate medical professional standards, the Geneva Conventions on treatment of detainees, and international law based on the Nuremberg principles that were embraced by the civilized world after it was revealed that the Nazis engaged in medical atrocities on prisoners during World War II.
"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 PHR report said.
Frank Donaghue, PHR's chief executive officer, said the report appears to demonstrate that the CIA violated "all accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War to protect prisoners from being the subjects of experimentation."
Waterboarding and Combined Techniques
For example, CIA medical personnel obtained experimental research data by subjecting more than 25 detainees to individual and combined torture techniques, including sleep deprivation and stress positioning, as a way of understanding "whether one type of application over another would increase the subjects' susceptibility to severe pain," the report said, adding that the information derived from that research informed "subsequent [torture] practices."
The study of combined and individual torture tactics "appears to have been used primarily to enable the Bush administration to assess the legality of the tactics, and to inform medical monitoring policy and procedure for future application of the techniques," the report said.
Drawing from the study of torture tactics, Steven Bradbury, then head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), prepared a memo in 2005 that approved combinations of torture tactics, including forced nudity, "wall-slamming," stress positions and repeated periods of sleep deprivation.
PHR's analysis on sleep deprivation concluded that "government lawyers used observational data collected by health professionals from varying applications of sleep deprivation to inform legal evaluations regarding the risk of inflicting certain levels of harm on the detainee, and to shape policy that would guide further application of the technique."
PHR also said the drowning method known as waterboarding was monitored in early 2002 by medical personnel who collected data about how detainees responded to the torture technique. The data was then given to Bradbury, who cited it in advising CIA interrogators how to administer the technique.
"According to the Bradbury memoranda, [CIA Office of Medical Services] teams, based on their observation of detainee responses to waterboarding, replaced water in the waterboarding procedure with saline solution ostensibly to reduce the detainees' risk of contracting pneumonia and/or hyponatremia, a condition of low sodium levels in the blood caused by free water intoxication, which can lead to brain edema and herniation, coma, and death," the report said.
In Bradbury's memo urging revised techniques what the PHR report termed "Waterboarding 2.0" the Bush lawyer wrote that "based on advice of medical personnel, the CIA requires that saline solution be used instead of plain water to reduce the possibility of hyponatremia " if the detainee drinks the water."