Under Bush Admin, Did CIA Experiment on Detainees?

A report alleges serious abuses by medical professionals

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A report by the Physicians for Human Rights claims that officials in the Bush administration experimented on terrorism detainees in an effort to establish guidelines for what constitutes legal interrogation techniques. According to the report, detainees were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques in an attempt to medically and legally establish that those techniques were not torture. The report, which cites unclassified documents, accuses the Bush administration of violating international laws against human experimentation, which were established in response to the Holocaust. Here are the reactions.

  • What The Program Did  Mother Jones' Nick Baumann writes that "'medical professionals working for and on behalf of the CIA' frequently monitored detainee interrogations, gathering data on the effectiveness of various interrogation techniques and the pain threshholds of detainees. This information was then used to 'enhance' future interrogations, PHR contends. By monitoring post-9/11 interrogations and keeping records on the effectiveness of various techniques, medical professionals could also provide Bush administration lawyers with the information they needed to set guidelines for the use of so-called "enhanced" interrogation tactics. ... It's possible, of course, that the data about detainees' 'susceptibility to pain' was collected as part of standard medical monitoring of interrogations. But PHR says that doesn't matter: it's clear that 'the collection of medical information was acquired and applied to inform subsequent [interrogation] practices,' which amounts to illicit human subject research."
  • Serious 'Lapse' by Doctors Involved  The New York Times' James Risen writes, "Medical professionals who were involved in the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogations of terrorism suspects engaged in forms of human research and experimentation in violation of medical ethics and domestic and international law. ... The data collected by medical professionals from the interrogations of detainees allowed the C.I.A. to judge the emotional and physical impact of the techniques, helping the agency to 'calibrate the level of pain experienced by detainees during interrogation, ostensibly to keep it from crossing the administration’s legal threshold of what it claimed constituted torture,' the report said. That meant that the medical professionals crossed the line from treating the detainees as patients to treating them as research subjects."
  • The Bush Administration's Logic  Liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler explains, "one of the things the Bush Administration did with the Military Commissions Act was retroactively change the law on human experimentation such that experimentation no longer needed to have a personal benefit to the research subject, and could instead be justified because of a 'legitimate' interest. You know, like the “legitimate” interest of knowing how long a human could be subject to sleep deprivation before they started hallucinating? Which suggests to me that someone in government recognized the risk CIA’s torturers faced."
  • Why It Was Illegal  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer writes, "According to PHR, these practices violate domestic and international prohibitions against involuntary human experimentation, most ominously the Nuremberg Code, which was put in place after the Holocaust. PHR also contends that the experimentation exposes interrogators and Bush-era officials to additional legal liability because unlike the techniques themselves, the Office of Legal Counsel does not seem to have sanctioned the experimentation as legal."
  • Will Obama Investigate?  Probably not, suggests Balloon Juice commenter cleek. "Maybe Obama will put together a study group to look into the possibility of investigating the prudence of convening a board to look into the likelihood of talking to Bush administration officials in order to get their opinion on these matters. in secret. sometime in 2017."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.