CIA Physicians and Research on Torture
Doctors and psychologists the CIA employed to monitor its “enhanced interrogation” of terror suspects came close to, and may even have committed, unlawful human experimentation, a medical ethics watchdog has alleged.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a not-for-profit group that has investigated the role of medical personnel in alleged incidents of torture at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and other US detention sites, accuses doctors of being far more involved than hitherto understood.
PHR says health professionals participated at every stage in the development, implementation and legal justification of what it calls the CIA’s secret “torture programme….”
It’s important to note that (at least as reported by the Guardian) what’s at issue, here, is not the simple presence of physicians and psychologists at interrogation sessions; it’s the notion that they were there doing research. According to the PHR’s press release…
The [CIA Inspector General’s] report details how the CIA relied on medical expertise to rationalize and carry out abusive and unlawful interrogations. It also refers to aggregate collection of data on detainees’ reaction to interrogation methods. PHR is concerned that this data collection and analysis may amount to human experimentation and calls for more investigation on this point….
Now, on one hand, the fact that detainees were used as research subjects without their consent might be thought of as the worst of their problems. I suspect that when you’re being waterboarded, the fact that the guy in the white coat standing in the corner didn’t ask your permission to take notes isn’t your foremost worry. But think of it this way: if there’s anything worse than being tortured, it might just be being tortured with the additional knowledge that your torturers are using you as a way of learning how to torture others more effectively.
Interestingly, notwithstanding the focus on consent in the Guardian and in the PHR’s press release, the PHR’s full report barely mentions consent as an issue, or research more generally for that matter. This raises the question of whether the research ethics angle, here, is considered an important one by PHR, or whether research ethics rules are being used (rightly or wrongly) as a tool to achieve other objectives.
p.s., back in May, Nancy posted this related item: Research on torture: Should we put limits on what topics researchers can study?