March 28

American Doctors & psychologists devise, test & calibrate torture techniques to maximize pain

Some of the inhumane methods were atrocious in ways that are scarcely imaginable. One prisoner was subjected to forced ‘rectal feeding’. Another was chained to a wall for 17 days. A third was subjected to sensory and sleep deprivation and chained to a concrete floor; he died of hypothermia.

“Water-boarding, electric shock, hooding, prolonged sleep deprivation, death threats and other techniques… None of these experiments or operational programs would be possible without the participation of doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists. The doctors are directly involved in testing the interrogation techniques and monitoring their effects.” (Colin Ross, MD. The CIA Doctors: Human Rights Violations By America Psychiatrists, 2006)

In her ground breaking investigative report in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer wrote:

“The strange accounts of torment that have steadily emerged […] are connected to decades of research by American scientists into the psychological nature of warfare and captivity. The research, which began during the Cold War, developed new currency after September 11th, when the Bush Administration declared a global war on terror and began trying to extract intelligence from radical Islamists.

“Since 2001, the critics say, medical and scientific personnel have played a role, largely hidden, in helping to design and monitor interrogations that are intended to exploit the physical and mental vulnerabilities of detainees. According to a former interrogator at Guantánamo who was interviewed at length by a lawyer, behavioral scientists control the most minute details of interrogations, to the point of decreeing, in the case of one detainee, that he would be given seven squares of toilet paper per day.”

Leonard S. Rubenstein, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, said: “It is both illegal and deeply unethical to use techniques that profoundly disrupt someone’s personality.  But that’s precisely what interrogators are doing, in order to try to get people to talk.”

Baher Azmy, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and professor at Seton Hall Law School, said: “These psychological gambits are obviously not isolated events. They’re prevalent and systematic. They’re tried, measured, and charted. These are ways to humiliate and disorient the detainees. The whole place appears to be one giant human experiment.”

Elena Nightingale, a pediatrician and the co-editor of a 1985 anthology of essays about doctors and torture, “The Breaking of Bodies and Minds,” medical experts are often called on to assist with torture, because “people trust and confide in them, which is useful to torturers, and because they have the know-how to keep a person under torture alive, so that more information can be extracted.”

Dr. Darryl Matthews, a psychiatrist whom the Army brought in as a consultant after many suicide attempts at Guantánamo, and who has since become a critic of conditions at the prison camp, stated: “As psychiatrists, we know how to hurt people better than others. We can figure out what buttons to push. Like a surgeon with a scalpel, we have techniques and we know what the pressure points are.” (The Experiment, July, 2005)

Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, a surgeon at Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a professor at Harvard School of Public Health, and award winning author (Checklist Manifesto, 2007; Being Mortal: Medicne and What Matters in the End) stated: “The medical profession was deeply embedded in this inhumanity…the worst for me is to see the details of how doctors, psychologists, and other sworn to aid human beings made the torture possible.”

He cites examples from the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Executive Summary (2014):

“Doctors watched as stress positions inflicted pain, lacerations, and only stopped them when producing, e.g., shoulder dislocation (p. 70)… psychologists, who were supposed to stop damaging interrogation, actually served as interrogators. (p. 72) Doctors suggested the water temperature for waterboarding and use of saline instead of free water to avoid water intoxication. (p. 86)

“Doctors were long the medical conscience of the military. The worst occurred because gov’t medical leaders abdicated that role. A medical officer wrote: OMS being viewed as the institutional conscience and the limiting factor to the ones who are dedicated to maximizing benefit…and keeping everyone’s butt out of trouble.” (p. 87)

“The Office of Medical Services wrote guidelines approving up to 3 waterboard sessions in 24 hours per prisoner…Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been subjected to more than 65 applications of water during the four waterboading sessions between afternoon of March 12, 2003 and the morning of March 13, 2003. During the first of three waterboarding sessions that day, interrogators responded to KSM’s efforts to breathe during the sessions by holding KSM’s lips and directing the water at his mouth. (p. 87) KSM “yelled and twisted” when he was secured to the waterboard for the second session of the day…On the afternoon of March 13, 2003, KSM was subjected to his third waterboard session of that calendar day and fifth in 25 hours. CIA records note that KSM vomited during and after the procedure.”

It was doctors who devised the rectal infusions “as a means of behavior control.” “…you get a tube up as far as you can, then open the IV wide. No need to squeeze the bag — let gravity do the work.” (p. 100) “Doctors found prisoners with broken feet and still approved putting them into standing positions for up to 52 hours. Medical officers also advised the CIA on the water temperatures for waterboarding detainees after sleep deprivation.” (p. 112)


“There’s something about doctors engaging in torture or destructive behavior that strikes people as more dreadful than other groups. It doesn’t mean doctors are better than anyone else. They’re as good or bad as other people. But 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.” (Robert Lifton interview. Democracy Now, 2006)

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