Shielded by a wall of secrecy medical scientist overturned traditional medical ethics, as German academics had done during the Nazi reign. The danger of separating science from ethics and divorcing the medical profession from its humanitarian commitment to heal — not to harm — results in the collapse of democracy and of a civilized society. The covert collaboration between leading American medical researchers at premier academic institutions and government secret service agencies led to the commission of medical atrocities. Individual civil and human rights of thousands of Americans were trampled. Doctors and psychologists who collaborated in abominable experiments that sought to degrade and control the minds and behavior of conscripted human subjects whom they deemed inferior, and, therefore, expendable, bore the greatest moral responsibility. The comparison between the collusion of German doctors with the Nazi regime and the collusion of American psychiatrists and psychologists in government sponsored medical atrocities — including torture of unwitting human subjects and prisoners of war; and their participation in executions — is deplored by legitimate scholars and physicians who never lose sight of the Hippocratic Oath to heal, not do harm.
“State imperatives can corrupt medical ethics. The Nazis were not the only ones to involve doctors in evil. American physicians and psychologists employed by the CIA [conducted] unethical medical and psychological experiments involving drugs and mind manipulation.” Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, author of The Nazi Doctors, teaches at Harvard Medical School. His latest book, which he edited with Richard Falk and Irene Gendzier is called Crimes of War: Iraq. Dr. Lifton notes that the policies that were dictated to the medical professionals created a psychological environment that made them capable of committing atrocities.
“There’s something about doctors engaging in torture or destructive behavior that strikes people as more dreadful than other groups. Doctors are committed to be healers, and however they may fall prey for money and status and all that, we expect them — we expect ourselves as doctors to remain healers in some primary way. And when instead of being healers, they join in with tortures or killers, that’s a devastating message to any society, and not one that we want to receive in our society.”
“Are doctors acquiescing to the regime if they use the materials supplied by the regime, or identify with the regime? I would say yes. It’s similar to physicians taking part in executions in this country. I can’t think of anything more wrong. A doctor is supposed to heal.” Sebine Hildebrandt, MD, 2012
The lavishly funded psychiatrists and psychologists contracted under MK-ULTRA were unrestrained — neither by peer review, ethical considerations, nor the scientific requirement that a valid experiment must have strict controls. The experiments sought to perfect techniques of physical and psychological torture, euphemistically referred to as “extreme methods of interrogation” which in addition to extracting information, sought to produce complete amnesia in the human subjects and in intelligence agents who had seen or known too much and could no longer be trusted. The diabolical techniques included various methods of hypnosis, verbal and sexual abuse; massive electroshock and psychological “regression” techniques; use of multiple addictive psychoactive drugs followed by sudden drug withdrawal which was known to cause excruciating physical pain; high doses of barbiturates followed by injected stimulants were used to achieve a groggy “the twilight zone” which CIA interrogators favored. They also experimented with psychosurgery and various electronic technologies to erase memory from consciousness and to control mood and behavior through remote electromagnetic means.
Clearly, none of these experiments had any therapeutic intent; they are in the category of sadistic torture. The extensive and notorious MK-ULTRA and ARTICHOKE experiments lasted for nearly 25 years. The subjects in these inhumane, sadistic experiments were “people who could not fight back”; they included soldiers, mental patients, prisoners and civilians, including young children. MK-ULTRA included at least four sub-projects specifically targeting children: 102, 103, 112, and 117. It was a brutalizing demonic program at taxpayers’ expense. (McCoy, 402) Under sub-project 86, radioactive isotopes were either implanted or injected in children. (ACHRE Staff Memo, 1995).
As McCoy states in Science in Dachau’s Shadow,
the human mind became a covert battleground for deployment of new weapons for mass persuasion and individual interrogations. . . the CIA led a massive, secret research effort to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind, with costs for psychological research and operations that reached, at peak, a billion dollars a year. (p. 402)