“Modern Day Mengeles:” Medicine in the Service of Immoral Government Objectives

A powerful essay by Alessandra Hirsch, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors in The Hastings Center, Bioethics Forum (2015):

“The CIA’s actions share four main qualities with those of the Nazi doctors: 1) they experimented on their detainees, 2) they perverted medical procedures, turning them into rape and torture, 3) they induced diseases in their detainees, and 4) they provided necessary medical care in order to enable future torture… These parallels […] show that, if what the Nazi doctors did qualifies as torture, so too, do the actions of the health care professionals working for the CIA.”

“One of the more famous practices of Nazi doctors was to induce diseases and disorders in subjects in order to study treatments or preventive measures, or simply to document the natural course of the disease. For example, Dutch Jews were infected with typhus in order to test vaccines.”

“The Senate report recounts evidence that CIA torturers had induced psychosis in one of their detainees as a result of torture. In 2005, a CIA psychologist stated that bin al-Sibh ‘has remained in social isolation’ for as long as two and a half years and the isolation was having a ‘clear and escalating effect on his psychological functioning.’” At the recommendation of the psychologist, bin al-Shibh (a detainee) “was transferred to U.S. military custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After his arrival, bin al-Shibh was placed on anti-psychotic medications.”   

“the Nazis and the CIA used medical intervention as a temporary measure to heal a patient before harming or killing them through experimentation or torture…The psychologists designed, implemented, and then assessed their interventions, which amounts to a scientific study of torture tactics. They then made recommendations to CIA officers based on these assessments.”

“One of these recommendations, given by Bruce Jessen to a CIA officer, came just days before the death by torture of detainee Gul Rahman. That officer “ordered that Gul Rahman be shackled to the wall of his cell in a position that required the detainee to rest on the bare concrete floor. Rahman was wearing only a sweatshirt [no pants]… The next day, the guards found Gul Rahman’s dead body.”

“According to Physicians for Human Rights, the psychologists managed to obtain exclusive rights to certain torture techniques, including waterboarding, which they evaluated and administered. This exclusive status was reserved for Nazi medical personnel as well: they were the only ones allowed to handle the killing gas and determine who was worthy of it.”