June 2010: “Experiments in Torture: Unlawful Experimentation in ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation”

Following a two-year review of declassified government documents related to detainee interrogation, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) issued a report, “Experiments in Torture: Unlawful Experimentation in “Enhanced” Interrogation documenting  evidence of illegal and unethical human subject experimentation:

“Both before and after Sept. 11, 2001, experimentation for non-clinical purposes on detainees by US military and intelligence services—either with or without their consent— would not have been permissible under widely accepted and understood interpretations of US and international law and medical ethics. Such experimentation violates accepted US legal interpretations, as well as all governing codes of conduct for any health professionals involved.”

“…several examples within the DoJ [Department of Justice] memos and other government documents reveal the implementation of a program of medical monitoring that involved many core elements of a research regime, namely, the meticulous collection and analysis of data to derive generalizable knowledge … the core elements, goals, roles, and rationales of a research plan are present in declassified documents related to the “enhanced” intelligence program (EIP), despite there being no public evidence of IRB approval or a formalized research plan.” (p. 6)

“The use of health professionals to monitor intentionally harmful interrogation techniques places them in the service of national security objectives which are in conflict with the interests of those who they are monitoring. The result has been a co-opting of health professionals by the national security apparatus and a violation of the highest medical admonition to “do no harm.” Until the questions examined in this paper are answered and, if ethical violations or crimes were committed, those responsible are held accountable, the misuse of medical and scientific expertise for expedient and non-therapeutic goals jeopardizes the ethical integrity of the profession, and the public trust in the healing professions risks being seriously compromised.”

The PHR report shows that the DoJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos hinged on the involvement of health-professionals. The OLC memos state that “a good-faith defense against torture charges could be made if experts claimed that the application of the torture tactics did not cause “severe, long lasting mental pain and suffering.”  The PHR report counters by arguing that: “the “enhanced” interrogation techniques are premised on the infliction of mental harm, so the concept of studying them to make them more effective is ethically impermissible, and studying them to make them “safer” is logically untenable — as the techniques are unsafe by design.” (p.6)

“However, while legal memos were drafted to justify the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Physicians for Human Rrights finds that “there is no publicly available evidence that the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel determined that the alleged experimentation and research performed on detainees was lawful”. In other words, the use of the techniques was sanctioned, but not the performance of human experimentation, or research for developing such techniques.”

“In their attempt to justify the war crime of torture, the CIA appears to have committed another alleged war crime—illegal experimentation on prisoners. Justice Department lawyers appear to never have assessed the lawfulness of the alleged research on detainees in CIA custody, despite how essential it appears to have been to their legal cover for torture.”—Nathaniel A. Raymond, Director of PHR’s Campaign Against Torture and lead report author.

The PHR report notes that although actual observational medical monitoring data are not publicly available in the instances cited,

“data collection was required by OMS [CIA’s Office of Medical Service] monitoring guidelines, and a Justice Department memo draws legal conclusions about the permissibility of the techniques based on apparent scientific analysis of the OMS data referenced in the memos.”

“…several examples within the DOJ memos and other government documents reveal the implementation of a program of medical monitoring that involved many core elements of a research regime, namely, the meticulous collection and analysis of data to derive generalizable knowledge … the core elements, goals, roles, and rationales of a research plan are present in declassified documents related to the “enhanced” intelligence program (EIP), despite there being no public evidence of IRB approval or a formalized research plan.” (p. 6)

“Both before and after Sept. 11, 2001, experimentation for non-clinical purposes on prisoners by US military and intelligence services—either with or without their consent— would not have been permissible under widely accepted and understood interpretations of US and international law and medical ethics. Such experimentation violates accepted US legal interpretations, as well as all governing codes of conduct for any health professionals involved.”

“Also, the “science” on which the authorization of the “enhanced interrogation program” (EIP) was based is flawed by any reasonable standard because it served as a means of justifying a predetermined legal end of aiding in the authorization of torture.

Even the claim of systematic medical monitoring in the name of making “enhanced” interrogation techniques (EITs) “safe, legal, and effective” is contradicted by official monitoring policy, which failed to adequately take into account the mental harm caused by the tactics, among other factors.

In fact, the “enhanced” interrogation techniques are premised on the infliction of mental harm, so the concept of studying them to make them more effective is ethically impermissible, and studying them to make them “safer” is logically  untenable — as the techniques are unsafe by design.” (p.6)

In a letter to President Obama, Physicians for Human Rights wrote:

“The use of doctors to monitor intentionally harmful interrogation techniques places them in the service of national security objectives which are in conflict with the best therapeutic interest of those they are monitoring. The result has been a cooptation of health professionals by the national security apparatus and a violation of the highest medical admonition to ‘do no harm.’ The misuse of scientific expertise for expedient and exploratory goals leads to a corrosion of the high standards of the profession.”

PHR indicated that a threefold purpose for conducting this unethical and illegal research:

 “First, because the EITs had previously been considered torture, there was little scientific evidence prior to Sept. 11, 2001, about their effects on detainees and questions about their impact and effectiveness were arising as the program proceeded… experiments on detainees [sought] to determine the effects of more prolonged and intense application of the techniques…”

“A second purpose of collecting generalizable medical data was to attempt to calibrate the level of pain caused by the techniques…

“A third purpose…was to create a basis for legal defenses for those engaging in acts that arguably constituted torture. Department of Justice lawyers argued that efforts to refine and improve the application of techniques would provide a potential “good faith” defense for interrogators against charges of torture.”

PHR called for a criminal investigation into the CIA and other government agencies, for illegal human experimentation and research on detainees; also to “issue an executive order immediately suspending any federally-funded human subject research currently occurring in secret;” and called for “a presidential task force to restore the integrity of the US regime of protections for human subjects of research.”

Psychologist and investigative reporter, Jeffrey Kaye stated:

 “The use of torture has suborned U.S. civil society as a whole in activities that are dark and evil, and the society as a whole must make a tremendous effort if it is to extirpate such evil from its midst.” ( The Public Record, 25 May 2010)