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NRC on Research on “War on Terror” Detainees: “A Contemporary Problem”?

10:13 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

A National Research Council (NRC) 2008 report on a conference on Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies examined briefly what it characterized as a “contemporary problem,” the possibility of doing research on “war on terror” detainees, removed by the U.S. government from Geneva protections against experiments done on prisoners of war.

In a section of the report that looked at the “Cultural and Ethical Underpinnings of Social Neuroscience,” the report’s authors examined the “Ethical Implications” of these new technologies. The section explored the birth of the new field of bioethics, in response to the scandalous revelations of the Tuskegee experiments. The report noted that “On the whole, however, the system of protections for human research subjects is not well designed to capture instances of intentional wrongdoing,” providing “rather… guidance for well-motivated investigators who wish to be in compliance with regulatory requirements and practice standards.”

The report further described the history surrounding the importance of the rules that constitute the need for informed consent of research participants, and how the Nazi-era experiments led to the Nuremberg principle that “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.” While claiming the current “formal procedures in place for the use of military personnel in medical experiments” are “stringent,” that doesn’t imply “that no abuses can occur, nor that convenient alternative frameworks (such as field testing) cannot be used to circumvent the research rules, but only that the official policies and procedures in the military are rigorous.”

But even with such supposedly “rigorous” policies, the report’s authors see a problem. They ominously ask whether “classified research can ever be ethically sound inasmuch as it lacks transparency, such as in the form of public accountability. For example, if a member of an ethics review board disagrees with a majority decision involving a classified human experiment, that member would be unable to engage in a public protest of that decision.”

At this point in the discussion, another interesting, and even more ominous question rises up before the NSC panel (emphasis added):

A contemporary problem is the status of detainees at military installations who are suspects in the war on terrorism. Presumably, the ethical standards that apply to all human research subjects should apply to them as well. But if they are not protected by the provisions of the Geneva protocols for prisoners of war, the question would be whether as potential research subjects they are nonetheless protected by other international conventions, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948). Those technical questions of international law are beyond the scope of this report.

Why should the question of research on detainees arise in this discussion at all?

Evidence of Military Research and Experimentation on Detainees

Jason Leopold and I have been investigating the possibility of research being conducted upon detainees at Guantanamo and other “war on terror” prisoners held by the Defense Department and the CIA. Back in September 2009, I published articles at Firedoglake, The Public Record, and Truthout that noted the research on “uncontrollable stress” conducted upon SERE survival school students subjected to mock torture predated the institution of the so-called “enhanced interrogation program of the CIA. The research was conducted by, among others, a CIA-linked psychiatrist, Dr. Charles A. Morgan III, who is affiliated with Yale University and the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Morgan has denied his CIA affiliation, but for documentary evidence, see this list of participants at this 2004 DoJ/FBI conference.

This research used methods that were similar to those later instituted under a plan developed by James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, formerly employed by the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), parent organization to the SERE program, to use coercive forms of interrogation on the new “war on terror” detainees, who the White House and their attorneys at the Office of Legal Counsel  removed from the protection of Geneva Convention protocols. In a report on CIA experiments on torture, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) noted in an appendix the existence of the Morgan research, but failed to make public the CIA connections, even though they certainly were aware of them.

Originally, the PHR report was going to include a footnote on the existence of a new protocol on human experimentation protections in the military signed by Paul Wolfowitz in early 2002. While they chose not to follow up on this, Leopold and I conducted a seven-month long investigation into the March 2002 issuance of Department of Defense Directive 3216.02, “Protection of Human Subjects and Adherence to Ethical Standards in DoD-Supported Research.” We noted that “the Wolfowitz directive weakened protections that had been in place for decades by limiting the safeguards to ‘prisoners of war’.” Even more, it allowed for waivers of informed consent if the head of a DoD department thought it necessary. There had never been such loose rules on informed consent ever explicitly allowed in the history of military research, although no prominent ethicist had discussed this until we published our article. Prominent ethicist Alexander Capron was quoted in our story for calling these changes “controversial both because it involves a waiver of the normal requirements and because the grounds for that waiver are so open-ended.”

While retaining the blanket prohibition against experimenting on prisoners of war, Wolfowitz softened the language for other types of prisoners, using a version of rules about “vulnerable” classes of individuals taken from regulations meant for civilian research by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

By removing the detainees from Geneva protections, and taking away “prisoner of war” protections, Bush and the White House lawyers, among them Jay Bybee, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales, opened up the captured prisoners, many of them sold to the Americans for bounty reward, to possible experimentation.

DoD and HHS Acting Together on Experiments?

Buried in the Wolfowitz directive was a provision (4.4.1) that “actions authorizing or requiring any action by an official of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with respect to any requirements” of research on “vulnerable populations” like prisoners “shall be under the authority of the Director, Defense Research and Engineering.” The reason for HHS involvement was because research “supported or conducted by the Department of Defense that affects vulnerable classes of subjects” had to meet the protections of HHS’s Common Rule language that covers protection of human subjects.

When queried whether there had ever been any DoD research on any kind of prisoner, or the use of HHS personnel to monitor such research, a spokesperson for Defense Research and Engineering indicated that they had no comment.

In 2002, there was another assault on prisoner protections for research, when Bush’s Secretary of HHS asked for and received a year later a blanket waiver for all informed consent on prisoner experimentation for “epidemiological” reasons, including the taking of biological samples. In a future article, I will explore the repercussions of this new policy — also never discussed by any ethical panel, and certainly not by the NRC — on research upon prisoners, and more specifically the possibility of experiments done on the detainees at Guantanamo.

This further investigation may throw light upon the Guantanamo SOP wherein all detainees were subjected to a never-before-attempted use of mass administration of treatment doses of the controversial anti-malaria drug mefloquine (Lariam), as also reported in a special investigation by Jason Leopold and myself last December. The scandal was also the subject of an independent investigatory report published at the same time by Seton Hall University Law School’s Center for Policy and Research.

In a 2002 report on mefloquine adverse events, “Unexpected frequency, duration and spectrum of adverse events after therapeutic dose of mefloquine in healthy adults,” published in top medical journal Acta Tropica, it was noted that 73% of the participants suffered “severe (grade 3) vertigo…” which “required bed rest and specific medication for 1 to 4 days.” Nevertheless, DoD maintains that the use of mefloquine was for public health purposes, to prevent malaria from spreading in Cuba. But as our investigation showed, talking with military medical experts, and examining other military responses to malaria threat, including in Cuba, no such use of such mass treatment doses, with its attendant dangers, was ever used or even proposed. Nor did DoD medical officers at Guantanamo demand the same protocols be used on foreign workers from malarial areas brought into the camp at this same time to work on building Camp Delta and other facilities at the naval base. The workers were employed by Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton.

Was the mefloquine use part of an experimental protocol on the adverse side effects of the drug, a subject of much controversy within DoD at the time? Was it a method of softening up prisoners for interrogation? While calls for greater transparency go unheeded, further investigation by the press may bring answers to these explosive questions.

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."