White paper suggests prisoner research without consent

by Emily Butler, content coordinator

In the wake of World War II, the 1947 Doctors’ Trial caught the world’s attention in describing the atrocious experiments Nazi doctors conducted on prisoners without their consent. The subsequent Nuremberg Code outlined ten tenets of ethical human subjects experimentation, and the first principle could not be more explicit: “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.”

Now, more than 60 years later, the organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has issued a white paper, Experiments in Torture, alleging CIA medical personnel conducted human subjects research in the “enhanced” interrogation techniques used to extract information from imprisoned terrorist suspects following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

During interrogations, the Bush administration authorized medical monitoring to ensure that the physical and emotional impact of interrogation techniques did not cross the legal threshold of torture. The report claims “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.”

In an article describing the release of the report, The New York Times quotes CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano as saying “The report is just wrong…The C.I.A. did not, as part of its past detention program, conduct human subjects research on any detainee or group of detainees. The entire detention effort has been the subject of multiple, comprehensive reviews within our government, including by the Department of Justice.”

The report makes several explicit recommendations, namely calling on President Obama and Congress to initiate a thorough and immediate investigation.

Time and the judicial process will tell if the medical monitoring of terrorism suspects is in fact human subjects research, and if the PHR’s claims are accurate. Did the CIA violate the first principle of the Nuremberg code, and if so, what steps need to be taken to assure ethical conduct in these situations? What are your thoughts on this report?