9 Steps the Obama Administration Must Take

Physicians for Human Rights calls on the White House and Congress to investigate thoroughly the full scope of the possible human experimentation designed and implemented in the post-Sept. 11 period. The War Crimes Act must be amended to restore traditional human subject protections.

Those who authorized, designed, implemented and supervised these alleged practices of human experimentation—whether health professionals, uniformed personnel, or civilian national security officials—must be held to account for their actions if they are found to have violated what international tribunals previously have held to constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

If any victims of research and experimentation perpetrated by the United States are found, they must be offered compensation, including health care services, to address ongoing health effects related to the experimentation, and a formal apology.

Based on the findings of this investigation, the United States should take the following actions:

  1. President Obama must order the attorney general to undertake an immediate criminal investigation of alleged illegal human experimentation and research on detainees conducted by the CIA and other government agencies following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
  2. The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services must instruct the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) to begin an investigation of alleged violations of the Common Rule by the CIA and other government agencies as part of the “enhanced” interrogation program.
  3. Congress must amend the War Crimes Act to eliminate changes made to the Act in 2006 which weaken the prohibition on biological experimentation on detainees, and ensure that the War Crimes Act definition of the grave breach of biological experimentation is consistent with the definition of that crime under the Geneva Conventions.
  4. Congress should convene a joint select committee comprising members of the House and Senate committees responsible for oversight on intelligence, military, judiciary and health and human services matters to conduct a full investigation of alleged human research and experimentation activities on detainees in US custody.
  5. President Obama should issue an executive order immediately suspending any federally funded human subject research currently occurring in secret — regardless of whether or not it involves detainees.
  6. The Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility should commence an investigation into alleged professional misconduct by OLC lawyers related to violations of domestic and international law and regulations governing prohibitions on human subject experimentation and research on detainees.
  7. President Obama should appoint a presidential task force to restore the integrity of the US regime of protections for human research subjects. This task force, comprising current and former officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the human rights community, and leading health professional associations, should review current human subject protections for detainees, and recommend changes to ensure that the human rights of those in US custody are upheld.
  8. States should adopt policies specifically prohibiting participation in torture and improper treatment of prisoners by health care professionals. Such participation is considered professional misconduct and is grounds for loss of professional licensure. Proposed legislation in New York State provides a model for such policy.
  9. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture should undertake an investigation of allegations that the United States engaged in gross violations of international human rights law by engaging in human subject research and experimentation on detainees in its custody.
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