March 28

2009: “Aiding Torture: Health Professionals’ Ethics & Human Rights Violations”

Physicians for Human Rights Report, Aiding Torture: Health Professionals’ Ethics and Human Rights Violations (2009), is a medical analysis of the CIA – Inspector General Report findings (2004, partly declassified in 2008; 2009). noted the central role that health professionals played in the CIA’s torture program.  The IG report reveals a level of ethical misconduct that had not previously come to light; health professionals were involved at every stage in the development, implementation and legitimization of this torture program.

“The doctors and psychologists who laid the foundation upon which attorneys rationalized an illegal program of torture also actively participated in abusive and illegal interrogations, thus betraying the ethical standards of their professions by contributing to physical and mental suffering and anguish.

The very premise of health professional involvement in abusive interrogations — that they have a role in safeguarding detainees — is an unconscionable affront to the profession of medicine… medical professionals were directed to meticulously monitor the waterboarding of detainees to try to improve the technique’s effectiveness, essentially using the detainees as human subjects, a practice that approaches unlawful experimentation.” (Physicians for Human Rights, 2009)

The experimental nature of the torture techniques is confirmed by CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS) guidelines for waterboarding which states:

“A rigid guide to the medically approved use of the waterboard is not possible, as safety will depend on how the water is applied and the specific response each time it is used. The following general guidelines are based on very limited knowledge, drawn from very few subjects whose experience and response was quite varied…

In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented: how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much 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.” (Quoted in PHR. Aiding Torture: Health Professionals…2009)

In his article What Appendix M Says About Interrogation in The Atlantic (May 14, 2010), Marc Ambinder wrote:

“From what information I’ve been able to gather, the interrogation environment is much like a social science laboratory, with psychologists and experts in human behavior looking for clues to see who might know more than they do, alternating with interrogators trained to ferret out actionable intelligence information.

Dr. Stephen Soldz, a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, who is the director of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, and a founder and past president of the Coalition for Ethical Psychology was appalled that torture was being applied within the controlled framework of a “social science laboratory.”

“If the detention facility is being run as a “social science laboratory,” it raises concerns that the psychologists and others may be conducting research on the detainees without these detainees’ consent. As a result of the abusive research of the Nazi doctors and […] the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, informed consent has been a requirement in this country for all but the most benign research for decades. Thus, Ambinder’s report raises the prospect that detainees in the black jail may be subjects of otherwise banned research procedures.”



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