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O What a Tangled Web We Weave…

June 23, 2010

I remember well President Bush’s televised statement:  “The U.S. does not torture.”  How could he say that?  As it turns out, it all depends on what you mean by “torture.”  President Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel had made a careful distinction between actual torture and  “safe, legal and effective” “enhanced interrogation techniques.” To do that, they had to define certain legal thresholds, such as the rule that interrogators must not inflict “severe physical and mental pain.”  And to make sure that interrogators stayed on the legal side of that threshold, they needed medical personnel to monitor the interrogations.

A national human rights organization, Physicians for Human Rights, has now released a report on the involvement of medical personnel in these interrogations, and has charged that doctors and others not only violated their own ethical obligations (“First, do no harm”), but also participated in what amounted to human research and experimentation on the detainees.  PHR reports that health professionals not only monitored and advised on individual interrogations, but also recorded and collected data and “sought to derive generalizable inferences to be applied to subsequent interrogations.”  Their findings and recommendations were used to test subjects’ pain thresholds and to predict the effectiveness and potential legality of various combinations of torture methods.

There are rules about human experimentation.  Among the most widely accepted are the Nuremberg Code adopted after World War II.  For decades in the U.S., there have been rules on federally funded human experimentation in almost every department that has had reason to fund such activities.  In 2005, these were brought together in the “Common Rule,” which applies to 17 federal departments, including the CIA and the Pentagon.  These rules require, among other things, that designs for federally funded research be reviewed ahead of time by an independent board, to ensure that the human subject will not be harmed.  The person who is to be the subject of such experiments must give informed consent, and must be able to withdraw that consent at any time. These rules were written with prisoners specifically in mind, as it is difficult for anyone who is not free to give free consent.

So to pretend it’s not torture, first you make a twisted definition of “enhanced interrogation.”  And to give that definition some credibility, you bring in monitors from a benign profession – a profession that swears, first of all, to “do no harm.”  Having stepped outside the bounds of medical ethics, the medical professional then steps over the line of the Common Rule and a common understanding of human decency, and conducts experiments the effects of torture techniques on human subjects.

The practice of torture has led this country through a tangled web of pretense and deceit.  The pretense seemed necessary because this nation wants to be better than the reality that is caught  in this tangled web of lies.  This country wants to say “We don’t torture” and mean it.

PHR has lodged a complaint with the Office of Human Research Protections within the Department of Health and Human Services, calling for an investigation into these allegations.

Anyone can lodge a complaint – including you.  You can join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture’s complaint based on the PHR report, or write your own.   See the full report from the Physicians for Human Rights here.

One Comment
  1. Jeanne DeFlorio permalink
    June 26, 2010 8:11 am

    These a fabrications to disguise the truth. The US torture and its phony wars have caused the rest of the world to hate us and to also know that we do not have a truthful response to what we did.

    How is it that we don’t use diplomacy in our foreign policies? Why are we the Imperial Masters? Is it due to greed?

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