The Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization, Physicians for Human Rights, has just released a White Paper entitled "Experiments in Torture" that documents medical professionals' complicity with CIA human intelligence collection programs, which include the now-infamous "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EITs), in post-9/11 detention centers. There is, of course, a continuing (and, at least on one side, entirely bad faith) debate over whether or not EITs are technically equivalent to "torture," but the overwhelming consesus among international jurists, humanitarian and human rights organizations, medical professionals and just about anyone else with a working conscience is that EITs are both morally reprehensible and illegal. Unfortunately, very few gains have been made in the campaign to call the Bush administration to account for its responsibility in the initiation and subsequent justification of EITs, despite noble efforts by people like Senator Patrick Leahy (who called for the establishment of a truth commission to investigate these issues). I've posted several times on this blog about torture, a topic that constitutes a significant part of my current scholarship, and so it won't come as any surprise to readers that I am fully convinced that EITs are the equivalent of torture techniques. I've read some really shocking, heartwrenching, gruesome and, quite frankly, thoroughly disillusioning material in the course of my research on torture, but I have to say that the PHR White Paper is a whole new low.
In sum, the findings of the PHR report are as follows:
Health professionals working for and on behalf of the CIA monitored the interrogations of detainees, collected and analyzed the results of those interrogations, and sought to derive generalizable inferences to be applied to subsequent interrogations. Such acts may be seen as the conduct of research and experimentation by health professionals on prisoners, which could violate accepted standards of medical ethics, as well as domestic and international law. These practices could, in some cases, constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity... The knowledge obtained through this process appears to have been motivated by a need to justify and to shape future interrogation policy and procedure, as well as to justify and to shape the legal environment in which the interrogation program operated.
The White Paper argues that the Bush administration's employment of medical professionals to "monitor" EITs was a way of pre-emptively protecting itself from charges that these practices were in violation of U.S. statutory and treaty obligations prohibiting torture. The hypothesis here is that advocates of EITs (like the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel) presumed that if they could point to the presence and oversight of medical professionals in these interrogations, their presence and oversight would validate the Bush administration's redefinition of procedures formerly considered torture (like waterboarding, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, stress positions and prolonged isolation) as "safe, legal and effective" "enhanced interrogation techniques." The problem is, according to PHR, illegal and non-consensual human experimentation also constitutes a "war crime" (and, when its perpetration is systematic and widespread, a "crime against humanity"). So, effectively, the Bush administration and the CIA employed one criminal act (human experimentation) to protect itself against liability for another (torture).
Even those of us who are not medical professionals know that one of the fundamental precepts of medical ethics is primum non nocere ("first, do no harm"). But the legal proscription of unethical human experimentation is also codified in the Nuremberg Code and the so-called Common Rule, both of which cover not only medical professionals, but also extend to any "research" conducted by the CIA or the Department of Defense. Despite the creative redefinitions of torture as "safe, legal and effective" by the Bush administration, its legal counsel and the executors of EITs, it is undeniably clear that, at the very least, those techniques DO HARM. The fact that they employed medical professionals to ensure EIT harm stopped just short of death, and that those same medical professionals recorded and documented the effects of EITs in order to "perfect" their maximum-harm-short-of-death potency, is just another addition to our nation's growing, yet still unacknowledged, registry of shames.
It's unethical. It's illegal. It's a disgrace to all of us in whose name it was performed. Arrest them all, I say-- the soldiers, the doctors, the politicians that authorized them. the lawyers that protected them, and the corporate-security leeches that profited (and continue to profit) off of them. Drag them all before a judge and a jury and let justice be served.