Health Agency Urged to Probe CIA Torture Claims

Human rights groups are turning to an obscure government agency to investigate allegations that medical professionals on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) helped the agency to perform experiments on detainees in U.S. custody following the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, in an effort to make "enhanced interrogation techniques" more efficient and provide them with legal cover.

The organizations called a telephone press conference Wednesday to announce that since the Barack Obama administration has not responded to previous requests, they are asking the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, to launch an official investigation. 

Their complaint contends that the CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS) "conducted research and experimentation on detainees in U.S. custody and, in the process, likely violated federal regulations governing human subject research carried out by United States Government entities. These regulations are known as The Common Rule (45 CFR 46)." 

Their complaint notes that the CIA is one of 17 federal agencies required by law to adhere to The Common Rule when conducting federally funded research on human beings. 

Led by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which disclosed the human experimentation suspicions in a new report earlier this week, the other organizations joining the complaint are Amnesty International USA, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Watch, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Psychologists for Social Responsibility. 

"OHRP has a legal responsibility to investigate these disturbing new allegations about the CIA and possible illegal human experimentation on detainees, despite the refusal by Langley (CIA headquarters) and the White House to do so," said Nathaniel Raymond, lead author of the PHR report, "Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program." 

"OHRP has a reputation for enforcing strict adherence to human research protections, which it must bring to bear against any CIA malfeasance that it uncovers," he said. 

Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA’s policy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, told IPS, "PHR’s report makes it clear that if nothing else, mental health professionals on the U.S. government payroll provided ‘material support’ to torture. We are calling on the relevant authorities to conduct a full investigation into these activities as they are required to do by law." 

And Dr. Steve Miles, board member of the Center for Victims of Torture, professor at the Center for Bioethics of the Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and author of Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors, agreed.

"As an organization committed to healing torture survivors and ending the practice of torture, the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) is appalled by the implications of this report, and renews its call for an independent non-partisan commission to examine and report publicly on torture and cruel treatment of prisoners since Sep. 11, 2001," he said. 

"Such a commission should be adequately funded and given subpoena power and a mandate to fully examine the facts and circumstances of such abuses and to recommend measures to prevent future abuses." 

The groups say their complaint is based on the evidence of wrongdoing detailed in declassified government documents, including the collection by OMS health professionals of data from detainees in order to derive generalizable knowledge of the effects on detainee subjects of "enhanced interrogation" techniques. 

These techniques included sleep deprivation, waterboarding, sensory deprivation and overload. It appears that data also was collected on the impact of techniques both when used individually and when applied in combination, as well as the experimental use of potable saline in place of water to reduce the risk of hyponatremia. 

If the OHRP concludes that OMS research on detainees subjected to "enhanced interrogation" techniques commonly viewed as torture violated the Common Rule and internationally accepted standards of health professional ethics, the CIA must be immediately sanctioned by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Any personnel found to have violated the law should be referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution, the groups say. Professionals determined to be in violation of their ethically mandated responsibilities should be referred to state licensing bodies and professional associations for appropriate professional sanctions. 

The CIA cannot obstruct an OHRP investigation on the basis that evidence may be classified. OHRP has previously taken actions to suspend research activities at major research universities for violation of the Common Rule. 

There have been numerous human experiments performed in the United States that have been considered unethical, and were often performed illegally, without the knowledge, consent, or informed consent of the test subjects. 

Many types of experiments were performed including the deliberate infection of people with deadly or debilitating diseases, exposing people to biological and chemical weapons, human radiation experiments, injecting people with toxic and radioactive chemicals, surgical experiments, interrogation/torture experiments, tests involving mind- altering substances, and a wide variety of others. 

Many of these experiments were funded by the United States government, especially the Central Intelligence Agency and the United States military. 

Public outcry over the discovery of government experiments on human subjects led to numerous congressional investigations and hearings, including the Church Committee, Rockefeller Commission, and the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments. 

But as of 2010, not a single U.S. government researcher has been prosecuted for human experimentation, and many of the victims of U.S. government experiments have not received retribution, or in many cases, even acknowledgement of what was done to them.

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: William Fisher

William Fisher writes for Inter Press Service.