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Shocking New Report: The CIA Performed Human Experiments on Prisoners Under Bush

A new report details how the effects of torture on detainees were closely studied in order to perfect 'enhanced interrogation techniques.'

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This type of documentation was not part of routine medical care as it was not being done in the interests of the person being waterboarded. Rather, the OMS made clear that this was being done

    "[i]n order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations" [regarding how to torture people.]

The purpose of this systematic monitoring was to modify how these techniques were implemented, that is, to develop generalizable knowledge to be utilized in the future. As Renée Llanusa-Cestero demonstrated in a recent paper on CIA research in the peer-reviewed journal Accountability in Medicine , the medical personnel conducting these observations were primarily present as researchers to observe and monitor, not as treating doctors.

Other examples in the PHR report describe instances in which OMS staff investigated the degree to which severe pain that may meet the legal definition of torture arose from the applications of a specific technique (sleep deprivation) or from combinations of individual techniques. In the combined techniques example, they apparently experimented with different combinations of abusive techniques -- "for example, when an insult slap is simultaneously combined with water dousing or a kneeling stress position, or when wall standing is simultaneously combined with an abdominal slap and water dousing" -- and studied the suffering that each combination created. The Office of Legal Counsel drew upon this research in one of the torture memos to argue that, because they claimed the individual  "enhanced techniques" were not harmful, combining these varied techniques also would not cause interrogators to slip over the line allegedly separating legal techniques from illegal "torture."

It is hard not to conclude that the CIA was conducting research upon detainees. These observations and experiments were not conducted for the benefit of the individuals being brutally interrogated but for the purpose of creating generalizable knowledge and thus constituted research subject to the laws and ethical rules regulating research, including the Common Rule.

Evidence Techniques Are Harmful

The PHR report also argues that literature existing in 2002 when the torture program began provides strong reason to believe that these "enhanced interrogation" torture techniques might well cause severe harm to those subjected to them. In an appendix, the report summarizes a set of studies on the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program that demonstrated a whole panoply of potentially serious effects that occurred when these techniques were administered to U.S. service members over a few days. The Resistance portion of the SERE program attempts to inoculate special forces and others at high risk of capture against breaking if subjected to techniques banned by the Geneva Conventions , that is, to torture . In SERE, soldiers are subjected to brief periods of "enhanced interrogations" in order to prepare them for the real thing if captured and tortured.  It was to SERE that the CIA and Bush administration turned when they decided to adopt torture as official policy.

Despite the fact that those subjected to SERE were volunteers, had a 'safe word' to end their abuse, and knew that their torment would end in a few days, an extensive program of research demonstrates that those subjected to the techniques even to a very limited degree suffered a whole range of potentially serious physical and psychological effects, including severely increased stress hormone levels and high rates of psychological dissociation, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite this body of published research, when the Bush Justice Department worked on the torture memos, they argued -- ignoring this SERE research as well as many accounts from torture survivors -- that the SERE experience demonstrated that the techniques were not harmful. In later memos, however, Justice Department lawyers apparently tried to strengthen their case by citing the CIA research derived from its torture implementation as further evidence that the techniques did not cause serious harm. Thus, one of the main finding in the PHR report is that one set of potentially criminal acts, illegal and unethical research, was used, incorrectly, to justify another set of potentially criminal acts, torture of detainees.