Scientific Torture

Comment from Donald Rumsfeld: "I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing [by prisoners] limited to four hours?" Image from wikipedia

Was the Central Intelligence Agency’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” program an instance of human experimentation?

Recently declassified documents raise this explosive question. The documents were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in connection with a federal lawsuit scheduled for trial on September 2017. The case was brought on behalf of three former detainees against two psychologists who developed the C.I.A.’s program..[T]he C.I.A. paid the psychologists to develop a research methodology and instructed physicians and other medical staff members at clandestine detention sites to monitor and chart the health conditions of detainees.

In response, the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights has charged that the program was an unlawful experiment on human beings. It calls the program “one of the gravest breaches of medical ethics by United States health professionals since the Nuremberg Code,” the ethical principles written to protect people from human experimentation after World War II. In its lawsuit, the A.C.L.U. is pressing a similar claim….

To some degree, the documents suggest, the two psychologists resisted pressure within the C.I.A. for rigorous assessment of the program’s efficacy. They argued that interrogation strategies can’t be standardized and therefore can’t be compared, like medical treatments, in randomized, prospective fashion. But backers of more systematic assessment seem to have won out. In an undated document, the C.I.A.’s chief of medical services chided Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen for treating the torture program as an “art form” that “could not be objectively analyzed,” then pressed the “need to look more objectively for the least intrusive way to gain cooperation.”…

Given that, in the words of President Barack Obama, “we tortured some folks,” isn’t it better to have learned something about the toll on bodies and minds?… Here’s why it may be….Prohibiting data collection as an adjunct to torture makes it harder for perpetrators to hone their technique. It stands in the way of efforts to make torture, like some medical procedure, “safe and effective.” And it keeps apologists from rationalizing that abuse is acceptable since researchers are making improvements.  Observational studies of the torturer’s craft victimize people by legitimizing it. And they put future captives at greater risk for becoming victims.

Excerpts from  M. GREGG BLOCHE , When Torture Becomes Science, New York Times, Aug. 12, 2017 full article

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