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.