When the torture memos were released, one of the things I noticed was that the authors used the presence of physicians in interrogations as alibis. The presence of the doctors was meant as proof of the U.S. officials' "good faith belief" that they didn't mean to inflict "severe physical or mental suffering" on the detainees they were interrogating, even though the express purpose of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques was to inflict enough suffering on people to get them to talk. According to a new report released by Physicians for Human Rights, the medical professionals were present for another, more sinister reason: to observe the proceedings in order to provide research and knowledge for future application of legally approved torture techniques. In other words, they weren't there to prevent the infliction of "severe physical or mental suffering"; they were there to help make torture more effective.
"The claim that health professionals served to ensure the safety of the detainees through the systematic monitoring of intentionally harmful practices is not only inherently contradictory but also a perversion of centuries of health professional ethics," according to the report. A spokesman for the CIA told The New York Times that "the C.I.A. did not, as part of its past detention program, conduct human subject research on any detainee or group of detainees. The entire detention effort has been the subject of multiple, comprehensive reviews within our government, including by the Department of Justice.” This would seem to contradict the plain facts of the matter.
The evidence that the physicians were involved in experimentation, rather than simply making sure the detainees didn't "suffer" is in the changes made to the way torture techniques were applied over time. For example, the CIA began to use saline instead of just water while waterboarding detainees, in order to prevent them from dying or going into a coma by ingesting too much water. The change was noted in a 2005 Office of Legal Counsel memo written by Stephen Brabury, who wrote that the change to saline was made “based on the advice of medical personnel.” Saline of course, wasn't needed during the use of waterboarding for Survival, Evasion and Resistance training for U.S. troops, because they weren't being waterboarded as much. The report notes, "Pouring saline into the detainee instead of water would be medically necessary only if the tactic were being used repeatedly on a subject, which was not done to participants in the SERE project." According to the report, physicians also assisted in studying the effects of varying periods of sleep deprivation, as well as whether multiple applications of "enhanced interrogation techniques" lowered detainees' pain thresholds.
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.
That doesn't mean the Bush administration was completely unaware of the possibility that they were breaking the law with their torture experiments. The 2006 Detainee Treatment Act retroactively weakened the definition of involuntary experimentation under the law, criminalizing only those involuntary acts committed "without a legitimate medical or dental purpose, and in so doing endanger[ing] the body or health of such person or persons."
As long as it's for the "greater good" right?
-- A. Serwer
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