Did psychologists use data from torture to test their hypotheses?
Guidelines from the CIA’s Office of Medical Services in December 2004
For years now, the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program after 9/11 has been under fire for being torture. The Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) says that it should also be framed as illegal and unethical human experimentation.
According to PHR report released this week, recently declassified documents confirm that the CIA conducted experimental research to test an unsupported hypothesis that torture could break the resistance of detainees and aid interrogation. This research was conducted to support the operation of the “enhanced interrogation” program and to provide legal cover for the use of torture to the Bush administration.
“The CIA torture program was based on the unproven theory that torture could produce compliance and ultimately assist with intelligence collection,” says Sarah Dougherty, the lead author of the report. “Although it was junk science, it was peddled by two psychologists who saw an opportunity to make a profit by setting in motion a crude program of experimentation to study the effects of torture on detainees. Even if this research had been benign, it’s still illegal to perform research without informed consent.”
“Because their torture tactics were wholly unproven – even the CIA previously said torture was counterproductive – [James] Mitchell, [Bruce] Jessen, and nameless others used observations during torture to formulate clinical procedures to modify subsequent torture techniques and guide similar monitoring for future torture sessions,” said PHR’s director of programs, Homer Venters. “Instead of living by the ethical tenet of ‘do no harm,’ health professionals applied their professional skills and engaged in research to aid torture. This was human experimentation on nonconsenting prisoners who were being tortured, a crime within a crime.”
The PHR also claims that health professionals were under pressure from the CIA to generate data to justify torture practices. They were also used to determine the threshold of pain and suffering of the torture subjects, calibrating levels as they progressed. That data was then used by CIA legal counsel to provide legal cover, with the CIA’s lawyers advising officers that such evidence could be used to sidestep criminal prosecution for torture.
“Health professionals were used to give experimental torture practices a false mantle of safety and legitimacy,” says Dougherty. “There’s evidence that CIA personnel recognized that illegal human experimentation was taking place. The CIA’s own contracts with Mitchell and Jessen even referred to the program as ‘applied research.’ Any researcher or health professional even minimally versed in the basics of ethics and professionalism can tell you that such research without consent is completely outside the realm of the acceptable.”
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