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Disturbing STD Experiments on Guatemalans by the U.S. Revealed

6:44 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

An article written by Susan M. Reverby, a professor of women’s studies at Wellesley College, has uncovered details on a study conducted between 1946 and 1948 in Guatemala, which involved experiments on Guatemalans. Essentially, the Public Health Service (PHS) inoculated people with syphilis.

On RAW STORY, an excerpt from the synopsis of the article explains the same doctor, Dr. John C. Cutler, who would later be part of the Syphilis Study in Alabama in the 1960s (and who would defend the study for two decades until its end in the 1990s), and other physicians:

…“chose men in the Guatemala Penitentiary, then in an army barracks, and men and women in the National Mental Health Hospital for a total of 696 subjects. Permissions were gained from the authorities but not individuals, not an uncommon practice at the time, and supplies were offered to the institutions in exchange for access. The doctors used prostitutes with the disease to pass it to the prisoner (since sexual visits were allowed by law in Guatemalan prisons) and then did direct inoculations made from syphilis bacteria poured onto the men’s penises or on forearms and faces that were slightly abraded when the “normal exposure” produced little disease, or in a few cases through spinal punctures. Unlike in Alabama, the subjects were then given penicillin after they contracted the illness. However, whether everyone was then cured is not clear and not everyone received what was even then considered adequate treatment.

Yet the PHS was aware then that this was a study that would raise ethical questions. For as Surgeon General Thomas Parran made clear “’You know, we couldn’t do such an experiment in this country.”4 Deception was the key here as it had been in Tuskegee. Much of this was kept hushed even from some of the Guatemalan officials and information about the project only circulated in selected syphilology circles. When it proved difficult to transfer the disease and other priorities at home seemed more important, Cutler was told to pack up and come back to the States.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have issued an apology on behalf of the U.S.

Revelations about these experiments likely remind Americans of the Tuskegee Experiments. This involved the Public Health Service enrolling 400 poor black men in a study to see how syphilis spread and killed people. The men that were enrolled were not told they had syphilis but were instead told they had “’bad blood,’ a local term used to describe several illnesses including syphilis, anemia and fatigue.” When the study began, no cure existed for syphilis, but in 1947, penicillin had been discovered to be a “standard cure” for the disease. Despite that, the medication was withheld from the men so the study could continue at the Tuskegee Institute in Macon County, Ala.

This report on experiments on Guatemalans may also lead one to think of what the Nazis did to Jews. It is well known that at Auschwitz and Buchenwald the Nazis engaged in human experimentation. Dr. Josef Mengele is remembered for experimenting on around 1,500 sets of twins (only 100 survived).

It may seem like there is no Nazi connection between what happened in Guatemala and what the Nazis did to the Jews. However, revoltingly, a footnote reference, which Raw Story cites in its write-up on these revealed experiments, explains how experimentation was boosted by what happened with the Nazis:

“…Ironically, the biggest boost to such experimentation came as a result of the postwar Nuremberg trial of 20 Nazi doctors, which gave rise to the Nuremberg Code, a set of principles intended to prohibit human experimentation without subjects’ consent. When defense lawyers implied that American scientists had conducted wartime research analogous to that of the Nazis, one prosecution witness, Andrew C. Ivy, cited malaria experiments involving Illinois prisoners as an example of "ideal," noncoercive research. Ivy’s 1948 publication of his conclusions helped to institutionalize prison experimentation for the next quarter-century.”

In other words, Americans made certain future human experimentation was “ideal” and that was how they made their experiments seem different from the Nazi doctors who were clearly responsible for the butchering of human life.

Reverby’s article provides details of human experiments in American prisons:

“In 1944 the PHS had done experiments on prophylaxis in gonorrhea at the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary in the United States. In this prison, the “volunteers” were deliberately injected with gonorrhea (which can be cultured), but the PHS had found it difficult to get the men to exhibit infection and the study was abandoned.”

This was often done without the consent of prisoners.

Today, we may think we have abandoned practices of human experimentation that doctors and scientists sought to use to make advancements in medical science. The awful truth is that America has conducted experiments on detainees captured in the “war on terror” and experimented on them to figure out what torture and abuse causes “pain” and what doesn’t and how long human beings can tolerate it before permanent damage is done to a human being.

On August 6, it was reported that during interrogations physicians were present to document the effects of torture. They were brought in to determine what the risks of waterboarding were to human beings. They understood that drowning, hypothermia, aspiration pneumonia, or laryngospasm could result from waterboarding but intentionally ignored “clinical experience/research” and assured lawyers “there was no ‘medical reason’ to believe that waterboard [would] lead to physical pain.”

The doctors actually went so far as to recommend adding salt to the water so patients would not experience hyponatremia, “a condition of low sodium levels in the blood caused by free water intoxication.” 

This was detailed in a report published by the group, Physicians for Human Rights, and more can be read about what the report detailed here.

How does a society explain the continued existence of organizations and entities within government and society, which find it permissible to allow individuals to experiment on humans? That find it allowable to create excuses for such experimentation?

I posit it has everything to do with who the subjects are. Those aware of history know America was afraid of leftist movements taking power in Guatemala and threatening American interests. Blacks were suffering under Jim Crow Laws when the Tuskegee Experiments were carried out. Felons in prisons were criminals and understandably considered the lowest of humans on Earth. And, of course, the detainees at Guantanamo and other prisons are and have been regarded as "terrorists." 

When humans dehumanize other humans, any form of brutality can be committed. Any callous act can be carried out.

It isn’t just that there are a few bad apples that produce these atrocious episodes in American history. As Philip Zimbardo would likely suggest, systems in place – political, economical, and legal –  turn people into monsters. 

Americans can shrug off revelations of torture and abuse and medical experiments on detainees but, understand, that episode is no anomaly. It will happen again. And, since Americans did not raise their voices loud enough and demand accountability and justice when Bush Administration officials were found to have created legal justification for torture, abuse and medical experimentation, atrocities will likely occur again in the not-so-distant future — atrocities that one can compare to the Tuskegee Experiments and thes new revelations on U.S. experiments on Guatemalans.

Guantanamo Detainees Know America’s New Normal Far Too Well

10:44 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Flickr Photo by Peter Burgess

Mentally Ill Detainee Ordered to Be Released in 2004 Still at Guantanamo

Carol Rosenberg, a journalist for the Miami Herald and one of the few journalists who continue to follow operations and proceedings at the Guantanamo Bay prison reports "an emotionally ill detainee still being held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was first recommended for release by the Pentagon in 2004."

Rosenberg writes:

"Despite the Pentagon’s recommendation, it wasn’t until 2007 that the Bush administration adopted the military assessment and put Adnan Abdul Latif, now about 34, on an approved transfer list. By then, however, the issue of transferring prisoners to Yemen, Osama bin Laden’s ancestral homeland, was mired in a diplomatic standoff over whether the Arabian Peninsula nation could provide security assurances and rehabilitate suspected radicalized Guantanamo detainees.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Kennedy disclosed the timeline in a heavily censored 28-page ruling made public on Monday night that ordered Latif set free. Latif is the 38th Guantanamo captive to be found by a federal judge to be illegally detained at the remote U.S. Navy base."

Ordered to be released by Kennedy on July 21, the Justice Department has been deciding whether to appeal the decision.

Latif’s lawyer, David Remes, says "why they continue to defend holding him is unfathomable" and contends, "Adnan’s case reflects the Obama administration’s complete failure to bring the Guantanamo litigation under control."

The detention of Latif is yet another incredibly disturbing indictment of a system developed to aid U.S prosecution of the "war on terror." Andy Worthington, author of The Guantanamo Files, detailed Latif’s capture:

"26-year old Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif (identified by the Pentagon Ab Aljallil Allal or Allal Ab Aljallil Abd Al Rahman Abd) stated that he had sustained a serious head injury in an automobile accident in 1994, and had spent years trying to find affordable medical treatment. After being told about the health-care office of a Pakistani aid worker in Afghanistan who would treat him, he said that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, and explained that, when the US-led invasion began, he fled to the border town of Khost and then made his way into Pakistan, where he was arrested by Pakistani forces, along with about 30 other Arabic-looking men. He told his lawyer, Marc Falkoff, that he later learned that each of them had been turned over to the US military for a bounty of $5000.

In his tribunal at Guantánamo, Latif appeared bewildered, refuting what he believed was an allegation that he came from a place called al-Qaeda by saying, "I am from Orday City in Yemen, not a city in al-Qaeda. My city is very far away from the city of al-Qaeda," which perhaps reinforces his claim that he had traveled to Afghanistan to receive treatment for a fractured skull."

In a recent post, Worthington illuminates his attorney, Marc Falkoff’s, reaction to the "unclassified summary of evidence"

"[W]hen I first saw the accusations, I thought they looked serious [but] when I looked at the government’s evidence, I was amazed. There was nothing there. Nothing at all trustworthy. Nothing that could be admitted into evidence in a court of law. Nothing that was remotely persuasive, even leaving legal niceties aside." At most, he added, "there was incredibly unreliable hearsay, often taken from other detainees who were — in the words of a military representative — "known liars,’ or else whom we now know to have been tortured."

Latif’s detention has driven him mad and turned him into a hazard to himself. An appeal issued in May 2009 by Amnesty International, as Worthington notes, described a "suicide attempt that took place on May 10, 2009, when he cut one of his wrists during a meeting" with Remes, his attorney.

"After the incident, Remes explained that Latif "chipped off a piece of the stiff veneer on the underside of our conference table and used it to saw into a vein in his left wrist " As he sawed, he drained his blood into a plastic container and, shortly before it was time for me to leave, he hurled the blood at me from the container." As Amnesty also explained, "A spokesman at Guantánamo confirmed the incident took place but said it could not be classified as a suicide attempt."

Amnesty also noted that Latif had been "held in solitary confinement in the psychiatric ward at Guantánamo since at least November 2008," and that he told his lawyers that "when he is awake he sees ghosts in the darkness, hears frightening voices and suffers from nightmares when he is asleep." He also told his lawyers that he had "ingested all sorts of materials including garbage bags, urine cups, prayer beads, a water bottle and a screw," that he had "eaten his own excrement and smeared it on his body" and that he had "used his own excrement to cover the walls of his cell door, the camera on the ceiling of his cell and the air vent in his cell."

In addition, Amnesty noted that Latif reportedly suffered from "a number of physical health problems, including a fractured cheekbone, a shattered eardrum, blindness in one eye, a dislocated shoulder blade, and a possibly dislocated knee." Latif also said that he suffered "constant throat and stomach pain which [made] it difficult for him to eat," but that, instead of dealing with this in an appropriate manner, the authorities strapped him in a restraint chair and force-fed him up to three times a day through a tube pushed up his nose into his stomach"

Rosenberg reports that recently Latif met his lawyer in "a padded green garment held together by Velcro called a "suicide smock." He had "been stripped of his underwear," and put into this "smock" which have been display for "reporters during camp tours." And, the "5-feet-4-inches" detainee" is now 93 pounds having lost more than twenty pounds since his arrival at the prison in January 2002.

As reported by AP in May 2009, after Latif’s suicide attempt, "the military says many incidents are not actual suicide attempts but merely "self-harm incidents" intended to gain attention."

The only problem with that argument is that "self-harm" is haram, which means it is not allowed in Islam. Muslims do not think their body is theirs. It belongs to Allah. If they do not treat their body properly, their body will be a testimony against their day of judgment before Allah. Latif’s desecration of his body affirms his attorney’s belief that Latif "sees death as his only way out."

Scott Horton with Harper’s Magazine has written about how the "suicides" are likely part of a cover-up of military wrongdoing at Guantanamo.

Latif’s case is but another example of what "the New Normal" does to human beings who get caught up in its inner workings. While presidential candidate Barack Obama said, after a Supreme Court ruling on June 12, 2008, that detainees held in Guantanamo Bay have a constitutional right to challenge their detention, "Today’s Supreme Court decision ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice, while also protecting our core values. The Court’s decision is a rejection of the Bush Administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo – yet another failed policy supported by John McCain," President Obama has continued to attempt to create "a legal black hole at Guantanamo."

As the ACLU noted in their condemning report, "Establishing a New Normal":

"It was a promising beginning, but eighteen months [since Obama's Inauguration] Guantanamo is still open and some 180 prisoners remain there. The administration is not solely responsible for missing this one-year deadline; Congress has obstructed any possible relocation of even indisputably innocent detainees like the Chines Uighurs to the United States, thereby rendering diplomatic efforts to relocate detainees in Europe and elsewhere more difficult. And the administration deserves credit for releasing some 67 detainees from Guantanamo. But the Obama administration’s decision to halt all detainee releases to Yemen–even when the detainees have been cleared for release after years of harsh detention–has been a major factor in the prison’s remaining open; a majority of the remaining detainees are Yemeni. Moreover, the administration bears responsibility for opposing in court the release of detainees against whom the government has scant evidence of wrongdoing.

A FEW NOTES ON THE NEW NORMAL

Whether it’s the case of Latif or the case of 15-year old Omar Khadr, who was threatened with gang rape if he didn’t confess to committing a war crime, or the case of Canadian Maher Arar, who was interrogated and tortured (beaten with an electrical cable), or countless others who pursue release from detention because there is no evidence against them, the U.S. continues to have a moral imperative to close Guantanamo (and other prisons).

The system of detention and the Kafkaesque legal system detainees are being put through serves as a way of entrenching America in a permanent state of war. It strengthens this idea that some humans, in this global war, are less free than others.

If we think the uproar against the "Ground Zero Mosque" in this country upsets the Muslim World, we should shudder at the thought of what radical effect America’s extralegal system for detainees has had on Muslims. Not only should America make peace with Islam and uphold religious tolerance by allowing mosques to be built in America, but it should also end the factory of crimes against humanity that is Guantanamo Bay Prison.

What’s It Gonna Take for America to Shut Down the Prisons at Guantanamo?

9:33 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

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Flickr Photo by Damon Lynch| This is a picture from an Amnesty International "Close Gitmo" demonstration outside the US Embassy at Grosvenor Square in London on January 11, 2008. It had been six years since the U.S. authorities first transported ‘war on terror’ detainees to Guantanamo


When we consider the indignity and inhumane treatment that detainees at Guantanamo have experienced and the torture and abuse which has surely inflamed Islamists who fill the ranks of al-Qaeda-like networks, what is our nation’s collective reaction? How do we respond? Does the thought of Guantanamo even matter to us?

Do the thoughts of detainees at Guantanamo being subjected to acts that we Americans would probably think could only occur to victims of crimes depicted in Law & Order:SVU or CSI affect anyone? Have we any empathy for those who have not been afforded a trial, or, if innocent, not been released?

Eight years ago, the first detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay. They arrived dressed in "turquoise blue face masks, orange ski caps and fluorescent orange jumpsuits, their hands in manacles." They were not considered prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

Over the course of the past eight years, there have been countless reports of abuse and violations of the law. Guantanamo has provided Americans with an example of the behavior and operations of American forces at other prison sites all over the world that should be far from acceptable.

Days after being inaugurated, Obama issued three executive orders that banned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques (Cheney’s euphemism for torture), pledged to close Guantanamo, and began a review of all pending cases at Guantanamo.

This press event could be considered a publicity stunt that was designed to stave off angry human rights, civil rights, and/or civil liberties advocates who had been ramping up pressure on Obama throughout his presidential campaign so that he would make a promise to close Guantanamo once he got into office. Fortunately, those angry groups did not let up. On top of right wing hysteria and Cheney’s national security speaking tour, the groups forced Obama to further explain how he would take action on Guantanamo in a press event in May 2009.

During the event, Obama declared, "instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setbacks, cases lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system." He also stated, "Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America’s strongest currency in the world."

Obama further explained:

"Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law. Indeed, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law – a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter-terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

So the record is clear: rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That is why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign. And that is why I ordered it closed within one year."

But, once he took on this issue, it became clear that he would not seek to mold consensus or work to alleviate the disinformed fears of Americans who are afraid of the "terrorists" being held at Guantanamo. It became clear he would not consistently challenge conventional wisdom that Guantanamo was making our country safer (even though he said something along this line in his speech on national security).

Democrats and Obama allowed the issue of health care reform to subjugate the urgency to close Guantanamo. They allowed fears of releasing detainees who might go back home and engage in violence against America dominate the conversation. And, they allowed the idea of transporting detainees out of Guantanamo to a facility somewhere in the U.S. to become a not in my backyard ordeal for representatives, senators, and their respective constituents while at the same time exhibiting a disappointing willingness to use indefinite detention or preventive detention to address issues posed by Guantanamo detainees.

Now, it seems highly unlikely that Obama will be closing the Guantanamo facility anytime soon. Even as news seeps out that what had been thought to be suicides at Guantanamo were probably homicides, the media has collectively allowed the election of Republican Scott Brown to the seat in Massachusetts that Ted Kennedy once held to be more significant than news of possible murder at Guantanamo.

Even if detainees are moved to a facility in Thompson, IL and a Gitmo-North prison is effectively established, Guantanamo Bay will likely remain open. Haitians who flee the devastation from a 7.0 earthquake and hope to get to America will be captured at sea and "housed" at Guantanamo. So, the facility will continue to act as a camp for containing human beings that America does not want to get in the way.

The best chance wrongfully detained human beings at Guantanamo have for escaping the Kafkaesque trial process they face as "terror suspects" lies in the hands of those who hear the stories of detainees who have been held at Guantanamo and shudder and then act.

For example, published recently in The Guardian is the story of British resident Omar Deghayes who was imprisoned in Guantanamo and subjected to brutal torture, which resulted in the loss of sight in one eye.

Deghayes chose to protest along with other prisoners a form of humiliation he and others were being subjected—a form of humiliation that "involved being forced to take off their trousers and walk round in their pants." A group of guards noted the protest and entered the cell to punish him. He was held down and bound with chains.

"I didn’t realise what was going on until the guy had pushed his fingers inside my eyes and I could feel the coldness of his fingers. Then I realised he was trying to gouge out my eyes," Deghayes says. He wanted to scream in agony, but was determined not to give his torturers the satisfaction. Then the officer standing over him instructed the eye-stabber to push harder. "When he pulled his hands out, I remember I couldn’t see anything I’d lost sight completely in both eyes." Deghayes was dumped in a cell, fluid streaming from his eyes."

Deghayes was released two years ago (which indicates that he never posed any threat to America or Americans at all). And, the fact that Barack Obama has not closed the facility, even though 12 months ago he pledged to close it, haunts him. The horrifying and terrifying thought of what might be happening to 200 other detainees at Guantanamo troubles him greatly.

Today, January 21, 2010, is a Day of Action to #CloseGitmo. For those who desire to see justice and accountability and for those who have suffered brutality at the hands of guards at Guantanamo, the ACLU, Amnesty International, and many other organizations like World Can’t Wait and Witness Against Torture will be flooding Twitter with messages about Guantanamo, torture, habeas corpus rights, etc.

Facebook statuses will be donated and social networking sites will be dominated with discussion concerning the need to close Guantanamo.

Actions will also take place in D.C. Veterans affiliated with VoteVets.org will likely be there to lend their support to the need to shut down the prison facilities at Guantanamo.

For the laws that continue to be broken even though Obama pledged to ensure policies and practice were no longer in violation of domestic or international law…

For the lives that have been destroyed as a result of being held at Guantanamo without charge, trial, or, if innocent, any prospect of release…

And, for the promises that have not been kept by the Obama Administration, this virtual and non-virtual Day of Action is a response to the lip service that Obama has paid human rights advocates and concerned citizens. It is a demand for concrete action now, action which those who have been held at Guantanamo and those who are being held at Guantanamo deserve.

For information which may help you formulate a blog posting or diary that could lend support to discussions during this Day of Action, visit the ACLU’s website, Close Gitmo. Also, check out reports and information posted on Amnesty USA’s page on Guantanamo.