CIA doctors engaged in 'human experimentation'?
This week at Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner reports on the complicity of American doctors in the CIA’s torture program as uncovered in a new report by Physicians for Human Rights.
To provide a veil of legitimacy, the Bush administration relied on the presence of physicians during “enhanced interrogation” sessions, essentially passing the buck for torture onto Hippocrates and his famous oath. Though this is not new information -- Jane Mayer documented the role played by physicians in American torture in her 2008 book The Dark Side -- the PHR report unearths an even more troubling aspect of this scandal: medical experimentation.
According to PHR, “Investigation and analysis of U.S. 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 U.S. custody as part of this monitoring role.” Granted, this “research” was not the Frankenstein stuff of Dr. Mengele -- the experimentation seems to have been conducted in order to determine how sadistic American torturers could be before they crossed into illegality. But it is still appalling.
Specifically, the PHR white paper discloses, physicians used interrogation victims as guinea pigs in the refinement of waterboarding procedures. The CIA “explicitly directed” doctors to note:
...how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was applied (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied, 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.
The cold matter-of-factness with which doctors are reminded that “much splashes off” during a waterboarding session should be more than enough to give you nightmares: When torturing a subject, make sure you don’t wear nice shoes.
Ironically, one goal of the "experimentation" seems to have been to immunize Bush administration officials and CIA interrogators from potential prosecution for torture. In the series of legal papers that are now popularly known as the "torture memos," Justice Department lawyers argued that medical monitoring would demonstrate that interrogators didn't intend to harm detainees; that "lack of intent to cause harm" could then serve as the cornerstone of a legal defense should an interrogator be targeted for prosecution.
Appallingly, what gets lost in this legal reasoning is the forced complicity of the 300 million Americans in whose name this "science" has been conducted.
The physicians' report rightly calls on the White House and Congress to investigate the potentially illegal human experimentation and whether those who authorized or conducted it should be punished. Given this unholy coalition of government, law and now medicine -- one of our most sacred and revered professions -- that has been subject to no accountability, it could very well take more time for our nation to emerge from this ethical cesspool than it does to actually extirpate terrorism.
Katrina vanden Heuvel
| June 9, 2010; 12:18 PM ET
Categories: vanden Heuvel | Tags: Katrina vanden Heuvel
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