#37: CIA Doctors Did Forbidden Research

By Amy Barth|Thursday, December 16, 2010

Doctors employed by the CIA participated in research and experimentation on prisoners at detainment centers such as Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram air base that included waterboarding, stress positioning, and sleep deprivation, according to a June report from Physicians for Human Rights. The group says doctors violated ethical and legal protections, including the Nuremberg Code and the Common Rule regulating federal research on human subjects.

Scott Allen, lead medical author and a physician at Brown University, studied redacted papers documenting U.S. intelligence-collection programs involving prisoners after the 9/11 attacks. In one waterboarding excerpt, doctors were told to record “how long each application lasted, how much water was applied, . . . if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, and how the subject looked between each treatment.” Beyond violating the doctor’s oath to “do no harm,” the method was flawed, says bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe of Emory University. “You can’t look at a person and tell how much pain they’re in,” he says.

In October the United States apologized for its reckless medical experimentation—not for the recent cia activities but for infecting Guatemalans with syphilis in the 1940s to test the effectiveness of penicillin in a precursor to the infamous Tuskegee experiments. “It’s frustrating that evidence documenting human experimentation today is buttonholed, while something from the past is condemned,” Allen says.

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