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Documentary on Early U.S. Radiation Experiments on Black Children (w/Video)

7:56 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

“…and she told the other nurse, “Oh my God, I’ve given him too much!” —from “Hole in the Head: A Life Revealed”

Greg Reese at Antelope Valley News has written about the early radiation experiments conducted in 1927 on black children at Lyles Station, Indiana. These hideous experiments are part of a largely unexamined legacy of illegal human experimentation, much of it conducted on African-Americans, and other minorities, and also on prisoners.

A 2009 documentary tells the story of one of these children, now deceased, Vertus Hardiman. These experiments took off Hardiman’s scalp… literally. But Hardiman wasn’t the only victim, nor the Lyles Station experiments the last. As Reese tells it:

One cannot help but be repulsed by the cruelty of such procedures, especially their application to young children, but this was not an isolated case. Similar research occurred in 1951 on a much larger scale has been uncovered in the then-fledgling state of Israel. Like the Lyles Station incident, where all the affected children were Black, racial overtones abounded since fair-skinned Ashkenazi Jews of European origin administered radiation to upwards of 100,000 Sephardic Jewish children who were refugees from Morocco.

The Ashkenazis served as proxies for Robert Oppenheimer, his Manhattan Project, and the U.S. government, who underwrote the program because they were eager to utilize a convenient pool of guinea pigs for further testing in the wake of their successful atomic bombings at the close of World War II. Sephardic Jews differ visually from their Ashkenazi brethren by virtue of their darker, olive skin tone.

Still more episodes of radiation bombardment were conducted throughout the 1960s at what is now the University of Cincinnati on some 90 working-class citizens, of which two-thirds were Black. During the Clinton Administration these and other Cold War experiment programs were reviewed to determine restitution suitability and the need for formal apologies.

The following is a trailer from Brett Leonard’s documentary, “Hole in the Head: A Life Revealed” (h/t Russ Baker at whowhatwhy.com)

For more information on the U.S. history on human experiments, see Eileen Welsome’s The Plutonium Files; Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet Washington; and Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison by Allen M. Hornblum.
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Truthout Exclusive: David Hicks Speaks Out on Torture, Medical Experimentation at Guantanamo

5:12 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Jason Leopold has posted an incredible interview with David Hicks, formerly Detainee 002 at Guantanamo. In April 2007, Hicks, an Australian, was released from Guantanamo and sent back to serve nine months in jail in Australia, having been forced to plead guilty to “providing material support to terrorism.” This is his first interview, and Truthout has posted it along with an article by Leopold with more background on Hicks, which includes interviews with some of the guards who watched him.

By his own admission, Hicks’ account had a “profound impact” on Jason Leopold “emotionally.” I think it comes through, as it’s a wrenching, if vital read. The interview is a look into the soul of a man deeply damaged by torture. He also endured the suffering of medical experimentation, which he finds very difficult to talk about.

The following excerpt touches upon the kinds of horrific experiments David Hicks endured:

TO: You have written eloquently of your terrible experience with what you say was medical experimentation, calling it the worst and darkest of your experiences there. Have you talked with any other detainees about whether they had similar experiences? How do you think about it now?

DH: When I was injected in the back of the neck I was being held in isolation, so I was unable to discuss what had happened with other detainees. A year passed before I was eventually able to see and communicate with fellow detainees, and I am unable to remember today if I discussed that particular personal experience with them. We did discuss medical experimentation in general however. A detainee with UK citizenship described being injected daily, resulting in one of his testicles becoming swollen and racked with pain. Along with these daily injections he was subjected to mind games by interrogators, medical personnel, and guards whom worked as a team. Under these conditions they were able to extract written false confessions from him. How I experienced the injection at the base of my neck is described in detail in my book. In a nutshell, I felt my soul had been violated. That is just one experience I had with medication. There were many pills and injections, plus constant blood tests over the years. Everybody regardless of their citizenship should acknowledge that medical experimentation, whether on human beings or animals, is unacceptable. As with animals, we were held as prisoners when these procedures were forced upon us against our will. And as with animals, we were voiceless.

Hicks also describes how medical professionals and psychologists were involved in his torture, how guards were told to observe him and other detainees, watching everything they did, and writing down notes every 15 minutes, night and day. He told Jason Leopold, “The interrogation rooms of Camp Delta had an entire wall as a one way observation glass. Behind these walls sat teams of so-called experts: Intelligence officers, behavioral scientists, psychologists; people who made conclusions upon which they decided what techniques were to be employed.”

Hicks’ testimony corroborates what I noted in an article in April 2009, which examined a top secret” paper (undated) entitled “The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, March 2001 – January 2003,” which noted that CIA “interrogation materials” consisted of “videotapes, logbook, notebook, and psychologist’s notes.” There’s no reason to believe the same protocols weren’t observed by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo or other military prisons, like Bagram.

At that time, I wrote:

The content of those psychologist notes, should they become available, will indicate to what end CIA interrogators and/or behavioral scientists were measuring the responses of Zubaydah or other prisoners to variations in the interrogation techniques’ application. Variables of interest to CIA psychologists might include head movements and hand movements, facial expressions or microexpressions, used in detecting deception or behavioral manifestations of stress. These types of observation are synonymous with computer analysis and argue for the use of a digital video system or the transfer of analog video into data stored on magnetic or optical media. The same release of documents to the ACLU that contained the “The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah,” also described CIA officials asking for “instructions” regarding the “disposition of hard drives and magnetic media” associated with the torture of Zubaydah.

There has been very little outrage in this country, outside of a small but dedicated group of individuals — journalists, lawyers, bloggers, community activists — the bulk of U.S. civil society has out of either fear or political obeisance to the Obama administration’s insistence there will be no accountability, no so-called “looking backward,” failed to successfully push for investigations or prosecution of top figures for their crimes. We know why the government has this position: because it is heavily compromised at top and middle level in the torture and illegal experimentation itself.

As a bonus, Truthout is posting an excerpt from David Hicks’ book, Guantanamo: My Journey, published in Australia late last year. Due to the cowardice of the publishing industry in this country, or possibly unreported pressures from the government, the book is not available in the United States.

But luckily, we have this important interview with Hicks himself. I hope it gets wide distribution. Americans must known what has been done in their name.

Guantanamo Medical Chief Was “Advised Not to Talk About” Drug Decision

5:54 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

A new story at Truthout, which I co-authored with Jason Leopold, takes up the investigation of the story into the mass drugging of Guantanamo detainees with the controversial drug mefloquine, aka Lariam, which we originally reported earlier this month. When I wrote about the issue here at Firedoglake, I noted that DoD had scrubbed one the key documents we used. I thought it had resurfaced, but looking today, it’s gone again.

The issue of documents is not so key for this latest look into DoD actions at Guantanamo, as we interviewed or had email exchanges with key individuals involved. The most important was Captain Albert Shimkus, Jr. (ret.), who from 2002 to summer 2003 was former commanding officer and chief surgeon for both the Naval Hospital at Guantanamo Bay and Joint Task Force 160, which administered health care to the detainees. A copy of a January 23, 2002 SOP obtained by Truthout showed that it was Shimkus who signed off on the mefloquine policy.

As the article at Truthout explains:

Capt. Albert J. Shimkus… defended the unprecedented practice, first reported by Truthout earlier this month, to administer 1250 mg of the drug mefloquine to all “war on terror” prisoners transferred to Guantanamo within the first 24 hours after their arrival, regardless of whether they had malaria or not. The 1250 mg dosage is what is used to treat individuals who have malaria and is five times higher than the prophylactic dose given to individuals to prevent the disease. One tropical disease expert said there is no “medical justification” for the practice….

Although there were two media reports in 2002 that quoted Shimkus saying “war on terror” detainees were given antimalarial medication, neither he nor any other military or Pentagon official ever disclosed to lawmakers or military personnel who raised questions about the efficacy of mefloquine, that mass presumptive treatment was the policy in place at Guantanamo.

“There were certain issues we were advised not to talk about,” Shimkus told Truthout in an interview, explaining the reason the policy was never publicly disclosed.

In the interview with Truthout, Shimkus goes on to describe what agencies and personnel he relied on to make the decision, as he readily admitted that he was no public health or malaria expert himself. Nevertheless, he persistently defended the mass administration of mefloquine, even if it did possibly lead to serious side effects in some of the detainees. He maintained the “benefits outweighed the risks.”

The Truthout article explains how unusual this kind of antimalaria approach is. In fact, in regards to the use of mefloquine, or of any population transfer from Central or South Asia to a non-malarial endemic area, the procedure was unprecedented, and if you believe the many links provided from the CDC, and elsewhere, was dangerous.

With the original Truthout investigation drawing upon a parallel study by Seton Hall University School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research, and suppositions by both investigations that mefloquine, whose drug family was linked to studies done by the CIA’s MKULTRA (see section on quinolines), was used experimentally to soften up the detainees, Captain Shimkus specifically denied any knowledge of any experiment done on the detainees in regards to mefloquine, or anything else. “I don’t remember in my 18 months [at Guantanamo] a word spoken in regards to research.”

But there was some reason he had been told not to talk about the procedure, and other matters. If the medical treatment at Guantanamo was so world-class, why are they hiding information about what was done there? Why can’t redacted medical records be released? Why do even detainee’s attorneys find it next to impossible to obtain these records? Why is a DoD Inspector General report on drugs and detainees kept totally classified?

The only way such thing can be kept secret is because the American people are not clamoring for the truth to be revealed. That is a sad and sombre reflection upon the state of this society as it goes into the second decade of the 21st century.

Jason and I have brought the country the first clear indication of what kind of drugging shenanigans were happening at Guantanamo. I’ll be honest, I’m unhappy with the response from the human rights community and key political bloggers, not to mention the mainstream press. Has the decision of the Obama administration to leave Guantanamo open, and to follow Bush in the policy of indefinite detention and abusive interrogation (Appendix M), so paralyzed the country that very serious charges of drugging of prisoners can pass by unremarked?

I thank Firedoglake and Truthout for supporting the work that furthers these kinds of investigations. But much more needs to be done. The blowback from non-accountability over torture is creeping into the society at an ever-expanding rate. We see this in the seeming acceptability in which accused prisoners, like Bradley Manning, are kept in onerous conditions akin to a Supermax prison… or Camp Echo at Guantanamo.

For readers, the question of what next lies before you with a moral imperative this holiday season. We bring you the news. You can hide your heads, or you can choose to act, raise your voice, make known the unacceptability of such treatment by the state on prisoners held without charge, without trial, victims of a “war on terror”, itself the blowback from a decades-long policy of supporting dictators and torturers abroad.

2002 DoD Directive Changed Rules to Allow Experiments on Detainees

8:43 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

A new article at Truthout describes how Paul Wolfowitz issued a military directive in March 2002 that loosened rules against human experimentation and protections for subjects of such research that had been in place since the early 1970s. According to sources within the Department of Defense, the Wolfowitz Directive, "Protection of Human Subjects and Adherence to Ethical Standards in DoD-Supported Research" (PDF), was used to support a top-secret Special Access Program at Guantanamo funded through the Defense Department’s black budget involving “deception detection”, interrogation, and other research upon detainees.

Jason Leopold and I researched this article for seven months, including "interviews with more than 15 current and former Pentagon and intelligence officials, ethical scholars and Army officers stationed at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility," and to summarize it here would be difficult. As is the case with such a long investigation, there’s much of value that didn’t make it into the final story, but is worth pursuing in order to fill in the outlines laid down in the original article. One such addition involves a closer look at the 2004 review of DoD-wide research programs with an eye to compliance with Federal regulations and DoD directives.

According to the Truthout report:

In January 2004, the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) initiated a DoD-wide review of human subjects protection policies. A Navy slide presentation at DoD Training Day (PDF) on Nov. 14, 2006, hinted strongly at the serious issues behind the entire review.

The Navy presentation framed the problem in the light of the history of U.S. governmental "non-compliance" with human subjects research protections, including "U.S. Government Mind Control Experiments – LSD, MKULTRA, MKDELTA (1950-1970s)"; a 90-day national “stand down” in 2003 for all human subject research and development activities "ordered in response to the death of subjects," as well as use of "unqualified researchers."

The Training Day presentation said the review found the Navy "not in full compliance with Federal policies on human subjects protection." Furthermore, DDR&E found the Navy had "no single point of accountability for human subject protections."

The review was ordered in late January 2004, only a few months after the Supreme court had agreed to hear the case later known as Rasul v Rumsfeld, which would decide that the Guantanamo detainees did have the right to challenge their detention. When finally begun, the DoD-wide review would come over two years after the Wolfowitz directive had indicated such procedures should be in place. As a result, none of the required assurances by the different Defense Department components regarding their human subjects protection policies had been filed with DDR&E. In effect, there was little or no oversight over DoD research policies at exactly the time when both DoD and CIA were engaged in an experimental torture program, or using detainee prisoners as human guinea pigs for the study of the effects of torture and harsh detention.

Whatever the specific reasons that prompted the review, the situation had apparently been serious enough that the Defense Research and Engineering agency within DoD threatened to stop all Defense Department research by the end of 2004 if the requisite assurances of adherence to ethical guidelines were not submitted to it by the end of that year. As it was, most of the DoD components asked for extensions of time, which were granted, and ethical assurances were not filed until 2005, or 2006 in some instances.

When asked about the over two-year delay in implementing the oversights demanded by the Wolfowitz directive, the Department of Defense refused comment.

Retired Maj. General Ronald Sega was the director of Defense Research and Engineering from August 2001 through August 2005, the key compliance officer during the early years of the Wolfowitz Directive. During his stint as director, Sega also served as the Reserve Assistant to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, which appears to have been a possible conflict of interest, as the Joint Chiefs were implicated in the approval of the new interrogation program. In addition, the SERE program is operationally under JCS control. During these same years, personnel from the SERE program — most famously James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, but not limited to them — were involved in the reverse-engineering of SERE methods of resisting interrogation for use by the CIA and DoD in torturing detainees in Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and secret "black site" prisons around the world.

Sega, now a professor at Colorado State University, did not return a request made through his office for comment.

2006 Navy Training Day Describes Part of the Problem

The 2006 Navy Training Day presentation went into a great deal of detail regarding Department of the Navy (DoN) "Adverse Events and Incidents of Non-Compliance." Besides those noted in the Truthout article, the DoN noted a a 90-day national “stand down” in 2003 at the Department of Veterans Affairs "for all human subject research and development activities to focus attention on a proactive review to ensure the protection of human subjects and the ethical conduct of research. The ‘stand down’ was ordered in response to the death of subjects; invasive research conducted without IRB review and approval; unqualified researchers conducting research; and failure of the IRB to meet minimal standards."

The presentation described some of the approximately 30 year history of human radiation experiments by DoD, the Department of Energy (formerly the Atomic Energy Commission), and other government agencies, in conjunction with several universities and hospitals from the 1940s-1970s. The scandal erupted in the 1990s, and President Clinton appointed a commission to investigate and make recommendations. Their full report can be viewed online.) According to DoN, the government investigation found "that government agencies, including the military services, kept critical information secret from subjects; failed to obtain informed consent; and presented interventions considered controversial at the time as if they were ‘standard practices,’ some of which caused injury to subjects."

The DoN Training Day Presentation was not done. They also referenced the history of Projects SHAD, Copper Head, Flower Drum, Shady Grove, Autumn Gold, among others undertaken from 1963-1970. According to the Navy: "More than 5,800 Naval personnel aboard Navy ships exposed to nerve agents and biological simulant aerosol spray released by aircraft to test protective clothing, gas masks, and ship vulnerability to penetration." But, as in some other portions of the Training Day presentation, DoN downplayed or lied about the seriousness of the experimental abuses. While some of the tests used simulant aerosol sprays, the Shady Grove experiment in particular, by the government’s own admission elsewhere (PDF), "actual agents were used in addition to simulants."

As I wrote about Project Shad in an article recently that otherwise described the recent revelations of U.S. Public Health Service experiments deliberately inoculating Guatemalan prisoners and asylum inmates in the 1940s with syphilis:

Project Shad was a DoD experiment that exposed at least 4,000 Navy men to various chemical agents and decontaminant chemicals, "including Bacillus globigii (BG), Coxiella burnetii [which causes Q fever], Pasteurella tularensis [which causes tularemia or 'rabbit fever'], Zinc Cadmium Sulfide, Beta-propriolactone, Sarin, VX, Escherichia Coli (EC), Serratia Marcescens (SM), Sodium Hydroxide, Peracetic acid, Potassium hydroxide, Sodium hypochlorite, ‘tracer amounts’ of radioactivity and asbestos, [and] Methylacetoacetate." So outrageous were these experiments, denied by the government for 35 years, that there were Congressional hearings (PDF) in 2002, and major news reports by CBS Evening News. Today, the story has dropped off the radar, though thanks to some Congressional pressure, and the activism of some of the Shad victims, veterans and the government can get more information on Shad and its land-based twin experiment, Project 112, at this Veterans Administration webpage.

The research violations were not limited to what might seem to some as ancient history. The DoN report describes a 2003 research project at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The researchers at the Orthopedic Surgery Department injected 48 subjects with contrast dye, even though they had not submitted the experiment to any review, nor was it approved by any Command Institutional Review Board (IRB). According to DoN, the study was "not properly supervised by a physician; poorly designed… [with] inadequate informed consent procedures. They do not mention what harm, if any, was done.

The deeper one looks into these matters, the darker and more disturbing the revelations. The number of different regulations that supposedly are there to protect individuals from dangerous experimentation, or vulnerable potential subjects, such as prisoners, are poorly enforced, or subject to bureaucratic and economic stressors that cripple effective oversight. The rules are themselves a tangle of legalese and a veritable maze of confusing regulations. Even the experts are at odds over what they say and how they should work. And then there are the ongoing admissions, as in this 2006 Navy directive (3900.39D – PDF)  implementing still current regulations concerning research on "Severe or unusual intrusions, either physical or psychological, on human subjects (such as consciousness-altering drugs or mind-control techniques)." (On a side note, when the DoN Training Day presentation described the new Navy directive 3900.39D, they explained how the Undersecretary of the Navy would be responsible for the research surrounding "severe or unusual intrusions," but left the part about drugs and mind-control out of their description.)

The Truthout article describes how Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and others, from DoD and its entities, such as Joint Personnel Recovery Agency and its SERE division, to DIA, JSOC, and the CIA, walked through this confusing mass of regulations, rewrote them, massaged the fine print, and used these supposed protections as a legal cover for the institution of torture and the propagation of unethical and illegal human experimentation.

The story is only half written. There is much still to be learned, and without effective, public, and wide-ranging investigations, this will all be left to happen again, if it is not still happening. None of the changes in human subject protections implemented by the Bush administration have been undone. As pointed out by Physicians for Human Rights in their recent "white paper" on CIA experiments in torture, changes to the War Crimes Act as part of the Military Commissions Act gutted the WCA of the protections connected to the Geneva Conventions,  including protections on biological experimentation.

The readers of this article, and others like it, will write the next half of the story. Without strong public pressure upon the government, and agitation in the press, real, effective oversight and change will not take place.

From Past to Present-day: Guatemala Revelations and CIA/DoD Experimentation

12:46 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Headlines were made last week concerning revelations of a 64-year-old scandal only recently discovered by historian Susan M. Reverby of Wellesley College. Reverby discovered that a key researcher who was part of the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis study had also headed a project in Guatemala that deliberately infected prisoners and insane asylum inmates with various venereal diseases, ostensibly in order to study how the diseases were transmitted and if they human contagion could be blocked.

Inoculation was difficult, the researchers found, and they had to result to making abrasions and dripping rabbit-infected pus on the genitals of human beings, some of whom had no idea what was being done to them, to try and get the desired results. The study was inconclusive, and ended after only a few years, but not before more than 700 individuals had been inoculated. The human subjects were supposed to be treated with penicillin if they contracted any disease, but record keeping and controls on the project were poor. None received adequate informed consent. Moreover, the researchers involved, working for the U.S. Public Health Service, knew the experiment would never pass muster if done in the United States. A similar experiment in U.S. prisons in 1911 was shut down because of controversy over the unethical experimentation upon prisoners. See Reverby’s preprint version (PDF) of her academic article for a much fuller discussion of what occurred.

These revelations are only the latest in an ongoing series of scandals regarding government illegal and unethical experimentation. Earlier this year, investigative journalist H.P. Albarelli detailed the many activities of the government its decades-long mind control project, as well as the use of drugs in clandestine operations in his book A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War. (Albarelli was also a guest at FDL Book Salon last January.) Albarelli’s book also covered the LSD poisoning by the CIA of the entire French village Pont-St.-Esprit in August 1951, a story picked up only a few months ago by BBC.

There are plenty of other underreported and important stories out there on the terrible scandal that has been U.S. illegal experimentation. The Department of Defense experimented on over 7000 soldiers at its Edgewood Arsenal, part of "a secret testing program in which U.S. military personnel were deliberately exposed to chemical and biological weapons and other toxins without informed consent." Troops were tested with "nerve gas, psychochemicals, and thousands of other toxic chemical or biological substances and perhaps most gruesomely, the insertion of septal implants in the brains of subjects in a ghastly series of mind control experiments that went awry." The program ended in 1976 after approximately twenty years. Remarkably, a lawsuit by veterans is still alive and wending its way through the courts.

It was approximately only ten years ago when another DoD experiment scandal became big news. Project Shad was a DoD experiment that exposed at least 4,000 Navy men to various chemical agents and decontaminant chemicals, "including Bacillus globigii (BG), Coxiella burnetii [which causes Q fever], Pasteurella tularensis [which causes tularemia or 'rabbit fever'], Zinc Cadmium Sulfide, Beta-propriolactone, Sarin, VX, Escherichia Coli (EC), Serratia Marcescens (SM), Sodium Hydroxide, Peracetic acid, Potassium hydroxide, Sodium hypochlorite, ‘tracer amounts’ of radioactivity and asbestos, [and] Methylacetoacetate." So outrageous were these experiments, denied by the government for 35 years, that there were Congressional hearings (PDF) in 2002, and major news reports by CBS Evening News. Today, the story has dropped off the radar, though thanks to some Congressional pressure, and the activism of some of the Shad victims, veterans and the government can get more information on Shad and its land-based twin experiment, Project 112, at this Veterans Administration webpage.

The government use of drugs and other experimental torture techniques during the Bush administration has led to a number of studies and reports. Most recently, the DoD Inspector General concluded an investigation on the drugging of detainees, or so-called "unprivileged enemy combatants" in DoD custody. But the results of the review remain classified, and the fact the report was even ever concluded was kept from public knowledge for many months. In 2008, now-Vice President Joesph Biden had been one of three senators asking for an investigation into the drugging charges. Biden’s office at the White House refused to reply to questions for comment on the report’s existence or what have been revealed by the investigation.

Finally, we have the ongoing question of human experimentation by the CIA as part of the construction of and operations concerning their "enhanced interrogation" torture program. Earlier this year, Physicians for Human Rights released a peer-reviewed white paper detailing some of the CIA actions. As the following press release by PHR explains, there is a direct line of scientific malfeasance and unethical behavior that runs from the Guatemala experiments of the 1940s to the CIA and DoD illegal experimentation of our era. In an excellent article on the topic by one of the PHR report authors, psychologists Stephen Soldz, explains:

Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was notified by letter of these abuses, abuses that violate the same research ethics principles — informed consent and minimization of harm — that were violated by the Guatemalan STD research. But, rather than express her outrage at this “reprehensible research,” Secretary Sebelius maintained her silence, as did every government official, other than a CIA press spokesman who denied our claims without presenting the slightest bit of evidence. Secretary Sebelius’ department referred an official complaint regarding unethical CIA research to the very same CIA that had already publicly denied the charges. So far, no government agency has committed to investigating these CIA abuses, which occurred far more recently than the Guatemalan horrors.

The letter denying the complaint and referring it back to the CIA was signed by Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary of Health at the U.S. Public Health Service, the same agency that conducted the Guatemala experiments decades ago (and conveniently never published the results).

What follows is a press release from Physicians for Human Rights (courtesy Stephen Soldz’s website):

Physicians for Human Rights Decries Obama Administration’s Double Standard on Illegal Human Experimentation; 1946 Guatemala Case and Alleged CIA Experimentation on Black Site Detainees Both Deserve Equal Justice

Cambridge, MA–In the wake of revelations about America’s experimentation on unwilling human subjects in Guatemala in 1946, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls on President Obama to equally investigate credible evidence of illegal human subject research on detainees in CIA custody during the Bush administration.

“What was done to 700 Guatemalans 64 years ago without their consent is appalling,” said Physicians for Human Rights CEO Frank Donaghue. “But President Obama’s apologies for the Guatemala case ring hollow when the White House refuses to investigate similar crimes that allegedly occurred in the past decade. The credible evidence of illegal human experiments by the CIA on black site detainees deserves equal attention and justice.”

PHR’s June 2010 report, Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, was the first peer-reviewed analysis of evidence indicating that the Bush administration allegedly conducted illegal human research and experimentation on prisoners in US custody. The research was apparently used to insulate interrogators from potential prosecution and to standardize the use of torture.

“The conduct of health professionals in both cases—Guatemala and the CIA black sites—makes a mockery of bedrock principles of medical ethics and the law,” stated Scott Allen, MD, lead medical author of the PHR report. “Human subject research protections mean nothing if they don’t apply to all people all of the time—regardless of politics.”

CIA physicians and psychologists collected and analyzed data on the physical and psychological impact of the “enhanced” interrogation tactics, analysis which became the basis of Department of Justice memos justifying the torture program. This alleged program of illegal human subject experimentation violates medical ethics, federal law, and international research standards, including the Nuremberg Code and the Common Rule. These practices could, in some cases, constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“While the proposed federal commission on the abuses in Guatemala is welcome, the American people must also learn the truth about what was done in our name over the past decade to detainees in CIA custody,” said Nathaniel Raymond, Director of PHR’s Campaign Against Torture and lead author of the PHR report. “The Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services must investigate these credible allegations of human experimentation on detainees by the CIA with the same mandate as the Guatemala case.”

PHR calls on President Obama, working with Congress, to appoint a federal commission to investigate what American physicians and psychologists did to people subjected to torture in US custody. John Durham, the Department of Justice prosecutor tasked with investigating the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes as well as interrogations that went beyond what was authorized by the Department of Justice memos, should also be given a clear mandate to probe allegations of illegal research at the black sites, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Torture News: Anti-Gitmo Protesters Acquitted; RCMP Investigating U.S. Officials on Arar Rendition

7:40 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The Washington Examiner is reporting that Judge Russell Canan of the D.C. Superior Court has dropped all charges against 27 (some reports say 24) defendants arrested at the U.S. Capitol on January 21 in a demonstration called by Witness Against Torture. The protesters were demonstrating peacefully on the steps of the Capitol, dressed as Guantanamo prisoners in orange jump suits, and with banners reading “Broken Promises, Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” calling for President Barack Obama to shut down Guantanamo prison. Police say they refused to disperse as ordered.

Inside the Capitol Rotunda, at the location where deceased presidents lie in state, fourteen activists were arrested performing a memorial service for three men who died at Guantanamo in 2006. Initially reported as suicides, the deaths may have been — as recent evidence suggests — the result of the men being tortured to death (see Scott Horton, “Murders at Guantanamo, March 2010, Harpers).

One of the protesters was contacted by cell phone after the judgment for acquittal, according to a story at MassLive.com:

[Patricia] Wieland, contacted by cell phone outside the court house, called the ruling a major victory because it upheld the First Amendment, namely the protections for freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly.

“We did exactly what the First Amendment tells us to do,” she said. “We actually exercised the First Amendment and won.”

SCOTUS Stiffs Arar Complaint, While RCMP Investigating U.S./Syrian Officials in Arar Rendition

According to a press release by Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the U.S. Supreme Court "decided today not to hear the [CCR] case on behalf of Canadian citizen Maher Arar against U.S. officials for their role in sending him to Syria to be tortured. I discussed last November the en banc decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where the court made it clear that victims of extraordinary rendition, i.e., kidnapping and being sent to be tortured, as Arar was, right from JFK Airport in New York City. (File this in the "it could be you" department.)

Glenn Greenwald castigated the Supreme Court’s decision in his column today, "The U.S. wins the right to abduct innocent people with impunity":

The Canadians, who cooperated with the U.S. in Arar’s abduction, conducted a sweeping investigation of what happened, and then publicly "issued a scathing report that faulted Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured," and made clear he had done absolutely nothing wrong. Then, Canada’s Prime Minister personally and publicly apologized to Arar, and announced that Canada would compensate him with a payment of $ 8.5 million.

But what has the U.S. done. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Really worse than nothing, as the Obama administration actively sought to prevent Arar’s suit, including filing a brief arguing against the Supreme Court taking up the Second Circuit ruling. Furthermore, the U.S. has refused to allow Arar into the United States, even though it admits he never did anything wrong. The only reason for this is to keep his story from being heard.

Meanwhile, according to CCR, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating U.S. officials involved in the rendition of Mr. Arar.

According to Mr. Arar and his attorneys, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has been conducting a criminal investigation into U.S. as well as Syrian officials for their role in his rendition to torture.

To their knowledge, this is the first time the existence of the RCMP’s criminal investigation of U.S officials has been made public. Mr. Arar has met with the RCMP in conjunction with the investigation.

Said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood, “The U.S. should be conducting its own criminal investigation of the officials responsible for sending an innocent man to Syria for a year to be interrogated under torture, not covering for them. Again, the Canadians are doing the right thing by criminally investigating not only Syrian officials, but officials from the U.S. as well. The Obama administration should look to the Canadian example and do what’s right – apologize to Maher and hold his torturers accountable.”

It’s a good thing (for certain people) that the United States is quite large, because as this country sinks into the status of an international pariah, intent on protecting its torturers, if not the right to torture prisoners it considers outside the pale of national and international law, U.S. officials involved in these crimes against humanity will soon find they cannot go to even Canada, as they would fear arrest and prosecution.

Other Links

Those more interested in Maher Arar’s case should check out this CCR link.

Those, like myself, who could not attend the Culture Project’s "Blueprint for Accountability" shindig at Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, NYU, on June 7, with Valerie Plame, Ron Suskind, Jeremy Scahill, Robert Kennedy, Jr., Vince Warren and others, can now watch the unchaptered video of the event online here.

The full text of the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) complaint to the federal Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP) is now online, offering the opportunity to sign on to complaint itself. The official petition draws upon findings by PHR that the CIA experimented on detainees in its custody, based upon the following evidence of wrongdoing detailed in declassified government documents. See PHR’s full investigatory report here.

PHR’s filing has been joined by other major human rights and civil liberties groups, including Amnesty International, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Watch, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

ACLU reminds us that June is "Torture Awareness Month," and is using the occasion to publicize many of the torture documents it painstakingly won via hard-fought FOIA lawsuits. Now, if they would only sign on to PHR’s OHRP complaint. Hey, ACLU, what’s up with that?

NYT Editorial Calls for Investigations on Illegal Torture Experiments

9:55 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The June 8 New York Times will carry an editorial, "Doctors Who Aid Torture," that endorses the recommendation of Physicians for Human Rights in their new report, "Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program" (PDF), for investigations by the executive branch and Congress of the charges of illegal human experimental research undertaken in support of Bush and Cheney’s torture program. The editorial is online now.

Disturbing new questions have been raised about the role of doctors and other medical professionals in helping the Central Intelligence Agency subject terrorism suspects to harsh treatment, abuse and torture….

The report from the physicians’ group [PHR] does not prove its case beyond doubt — how could it when so much is still hidden? — but it rightly calls on the White House and Congress to investigate the potentially illegal human experimentation and whether those who authorized or conducted it should be punished. Those are just two of the many unresolved issues from the Bush administration that President Obama and Congressional leaders have swept under the carpet. [bold emphasis added]

Within only a day of the report’s release, there has been an amazing amount of coverage, from the New York Times itself, to Scott Horton at Harper’s, Jason Leopold at Truthout, Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel, Adam Serwer at The American Prospect/Tapped, and dozens of other commentators and news outlets. I had my own article covering the report’s release yesterday.

Especially interesting was an interview at BoingBoing with the reports lead medical author, Dr. Scott Allen. The story has also penetrated the academic and scientific communities with stories at Nature and Scientific American.

You don’t charge "Nuremberg crimes" and not have people sit up and listen.

In their report, PHR charged that "Health professionals working for and on behalf of the CIA monitored the interrogations of detainees, collected and analyzed the results of [the] interrogations, and sought to derive generalizable inferences to be applied to subsequent interrogations." In other words, they engaged in research. Except, when you engage in research with human beings, you must get their full informed consent. The history of government research is replete with criminal failures to do that, with tragic results.

In recent history, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the U.S. government’s Human Radiation Experiments are two of the more egregious examples. Another example are the MK-ULTRA and Artichoke and other mind-control experiments of the 1950s-1970s.

In the case of the CIA "enhanced interrogation" program (EIP), the government used medical professionals (doctors and psychologists) to determine the parameters of the torture techniques, to make them conform to the twisted ideas of John Yoo, David Addington and Jay Bybee about the torture and what constituted "severe pain," so they could write a near-blank check for torture in the Office of Legal Counsel memos approving the EIP. While Yoo was gaming the system by drawing definitions out of obscure Medicare regulations, the doctors and psychologists at CIA black sites were determining whether or not extending sleep deprivation, the amount of water during waterboarding, and manipulating various combination of torture techniques would cause severe pain — or not. This patently constituted unethical research in the service of constructing an illegal, experimental torture program.

A Hideous Crime

Using people as guinea pigs without their consent, i.e., against their will, or indifferent to their will, in the name of science, is a crime. When practiced upon prisoners, it is a war crime. A hideous crime with special reference to the place of doctors and psychologists in our society.

Doctors/psychologists who work for the state to "refine the techniques" of torture upon unwilling subjects, subjects indeed held prisoner, are guilty of war crimes under a number of different laws, including laws that forbid illegal research and experimentation. It is like those doctors who were interested in how little food a concentration camp prisoner could survive on, so they studied the reactions of the prisoners to various diets. They did not want them to die (if they did), and one could say they were trying to help the prisoners. Just substitute interrogation for diet and one gets a sense of the issue. (In a bizarre similarity to the concentration camps example here, it is remarkable that the CIA doctors also experimented with putting waterboarded prisoners on a liquid diet "so their emesis would be soft and less likely to cause choking or aspiration pneumonia if the detainee were to vomit." See pg. 9 of PHR’s report.)

One important aspect of the PHR report covered the ways in which the government manipulated the war crimes laws in order to cover for their crimes. In 2006, Congress passed and Bush signed the Military Commissions Act. This law changed the wording of the 1996 War Crimes Act to soften the language around war crimes concerning "biological experimentation," which had formerly been derived from the Geneva Convention’s implementation of the Nuremberg protocols.

As I noted on June 6:

While there is some evidence that the Bush administration was concerned with loosening the legal parameters surrounding research using human subjects (story to come), there is no evidence, as PHR’s White Paper points out, that OLC ever considered the legality of the medical monitoring of prisoners as part of the CIA torture program. According to Director of PHR’s Campaign Against Torture and lead report author, Nathaniel A. Raymond, “Justice Department lawyers appear to have never assessed the lawfulness of the alleged research on detainees in CIA custody, despite how essential it appears to have been to their legal cover for torture.”

The failure to assess the lawfulness of the illegal experiments they were conducting may yet turn out to be the Achilles heel of the Bush/Cheney torture program. The use of prisoners as guinea pigs affronts every sense of decency. I salute the New York Times editorial board for making the right call and supporting PHR in their call for investigations.

The CIA has been quoted as denying any wrong doing. In James Risen’s article earlier today at the Times:

“The report is just wrong,” said Paul Gimigliano, an agency spokesman. “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.”

I suspect the CIA did consider the issue of human subject research. There is too much evidence of manipulation of laws and policies surrounding research (some of which has not yet been reported upon) to make me think differently. My hypothesis is that they have some document or memo somewhere approving the use of medical monitors in what they will call the "field testing" of the EIP. But this will await the issuance of subpoenas to confirm.

In a phone conference this afternoon, Raymond told those present, "It is time for an investigation. We’ve shown our evidence, and it’s time for the administration to show theirs."

H/T to Jason Leopold for pointing me to the NYT editorial

Psychologists Notes May Indicate Zubaydah Torture Experimentation

12:01 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Originally posted at Truthout

One interesting nugget found in newly released CIA documents related to the destruction of 92 torture tapes concerns the unreported existence of psychologist’s notes as a standard part of the interrogation protocol.

In a "top secret" paper (undated) entitled "The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, March 2001 – January 2003," in a section that, though heavily redacted, describes the review of the tapes by a CIA attorney from the Office of General Counsel, "interrogation materials" are described as consisting of "videotapes, logbook, notebook, and psychologist’s notes."

(The "March 2001" date on the report is surely incorrect, and should say March 2002, when Zubaydah was captured and brought into the CIA interrogation process. There are many errors and outright lies in the report. One of them concerns the affirmative statement that Zubaydah was "the author of a seminal Al Qaeda manual on resistance to interrogation methods." This is a step beyond the conditional language used to assert the same claim in other CIA documents. The al-Qaeda manual’s authorship is considered unknown. It was discovered in May 2000 on a computer drive belonging to Anas al-Liby in Manchester, England. Al-Liby was reportedly working then with purported double or triple agent, FBI informant and former US Special Forces member, Ali Mohamed. Al-Liby himself, was, according to a November 2002 story in the UK Guardian, a member of a Libyan al-Qaeda cell that was paid by British intelligence in 1996 to attempt an assassination of Muammar Gaddafi.)

The content of those psychologist notes, should they become available, will indicate to what end CIA interrogators and/or behavioral scientists were measuring the responses of Zubaydah or other prisoners to variations in the interrogation techniques’ application. Variables of interest to CIA psychologists might include head movements and hand movements, facial expressions or microexpressions, used in detecting deception or behavioral manifestations of stress. These types of observation are synonymous with computer analysis and argue for the use of a digital video system or the transfer of analog video into data stored on magnetic or optical media. The same release of documents to the ACLU that contained the "The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah," also described CIA officials asking for "instructions" regarding the "disposition of hard drives and magnetic media" associated with the torture of Zubaydah.

In his or her notes, the CIA psychologist-analyst also would be describing mood; affect (appropriate or not, what it was); observed variations in consciousness, including instances of possible dissociation; and particularly unusual behaviors (e.g., urinating on oneself, or continually masturbating, as Zubaydah was reported to do as a soothing activity for a person highly stressed and regressed).

The examination of psychological variables, such as could be determined upon videotape review, does not rule out other forms of data that could be drawn from the prisoner interrogations. The CIA has noted that it took preliminary medical examinations of prisoners, and that while they were subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" they were medically and psychologically monitored daily. Such medical forms of monitoring would include variables associated with the experience of "uncontrollable stress."

Studying "Uncontrollable Stress" and "Learned Helplessness"

In a number of professional studies, the terms "uncontrollable stress" and "learned helplessness" are used interchangeably, as in this example. The term learned helplessness itself was fashioned by psychologist, researcher and former American Psychological (APA) President Martin Seligman. The theory was taken up by military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen to describe the kinds of effects on prisoners the enhanced interrogation techniques were meant to produce. While Seligman spoke to a SERE meeting in 2002 on the subject of learned helplessness, he denies he had any connection with the formation of the Bush-era torture program. Last August, Scott Shane of The New York Times reported that Mitchell visited Seligman’s home, accompanied by CIA psychologist Kirk Hubbard, where "a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered … to brainstorm about Muslim extremism."

CIA and Department of Defense (DoD) researchers are known to have experimented (including upon SERE mock torture trainees) with the use of a number of techniques to measure such uncontrollable stress, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), acoustic startle eye-blink response (ASER), heart rate variability (HRV), testosterone and neuroendrocrine sampling, particularly of cortisol and neuropeptide-Y (NPY).

Psychologist’s notes might also include preliminary hypotheses in relation to these reactions and the psychological theories of learned helplessness that were driving the interrogations. Perhaps – and this would be even more important – we would discover evidence that the psychologist(s) were conjuring suggestions about ways to manipulate the situation on a day-by-day basis.

From what is known or speculated about a second taping system used in the interrogation of Zubaydah, it seems likely that psychologist notes were also an integral part of the process involved in the use of those tapes.

The specific use of psychologist’s notes corroborates earlier information that ongoing psychological and medical observations were playing a key role in the CIA interrogation process. This was clearly revealed in the various Office of Legal Counsel memos released last year. According to a report by Sheri Fink at ProPublica in May 2009, descriptions of CIA cables released to the ACLU at that time (see PDFs here and here) showed that "medical update[s]" and "behavioral comments" regarding the interrogation of Zubaydah were sent from CIA personnel in the "field" to CIA headquarters on a daily basis. Fink elaborates:

On five occasions between Aug. 4 and Aug. 9, [2002] an additional cable was sent containing "medical information" along with such information as the strategies for interrogation sessions, raw intelligence, the use of interrogation techniques to elicit information, and the reactions to those techniques. The fact that medical information was included in these cables hints that Abu Zubaydah was medically monitored during or after being subjected to those techniques. Both professional organizations and human rights groups have rejected as unethical any monitoring role for medical personnel.

A number of psychologists have been associated with the CIA interrogation program, either directly through participation in the planning and implementation of the torture, or by supporting the presence of psychologists in the interrogation process. The latter issue embroiled the APA in a controversy that led to the exodus of many members. A number of the presidents and other prominent members of the APA have been connected in one way or another to the CIA and DoD interrogation programs, in clear violation of the organization’s own ethical standards.

Last August, Physicians for Human Rights released a white paper that raised the question of medical collaboration with the CIA in constructing its torture interrogation program.

"The [CIA] Inspector General’s report confirms much of what had been reported about the essential role played by health professionals in designing, deploying, monitoring and legitimizing the program of torture, but also raises disturbing new questions which require further investigation," stated the study "Aiding Torture: Health Professionals’ Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated in the May 2004 CIA Inspector General’s Report."

"The possibility that health professionals monitored techniques to assess and improve their effectiveness, constituting possible unethical human experimentation, urgently needs to be thoroughly investigated."