Outside Academic Experts Respond to Experiments in Torture

Nancy Berlinger

According to Nancy Berlinger, a research scholar who studies clinical ethics at The Hastings Center in Garrison, New York, the report is distressing in part because it reveals a complete disregard for the Nuremberg Code. The 1947 code was created in response to evidence of Nazi-era experimentation and forms the basis for subsequent US regulations governing research. “To see evidence of experimentation on detainees in US custody feels like a body blow to people who care about research ethics,” says Berlinger.

(Meredith Waldman, Medics performed ‘interrogation research,’” Nature, June 7, 2010)

Jonathan D. Moreno

“There was no therapeutic purpose or intent to monitor and collect this data,” said Jonathan D. Moreno, a professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania. “You can’t use people as laboratories.”

(James Risen, “Medical Ethics Lapses Cited in Interrogations,” New York Times, June 6, 2010)

Olivier Ribbelink

Olivier Ribbelink, researcher at the Asser Institute in The Hague, says the report uses the term medical experiments deservedly. “Doctors and psychologist have assisted in improving interrogation techniques [..], for example to use salt water instead of regular water in water boarding, to enhance dehydration, and to advice that prisoners eat liquid food so they won’t suffocate in their vomit.”

“There have been other experiments with humans, for example in military camps in the US, where have been research programmes on the effects of dehydration and solitary confinement. But these were always based on personal consent,” Ribbelink says.

Though the PHR report clearly indicates the violation of international human right law, Ribbelink thinks medical ethics prevail. As doctors and psychologists assisted in approving interrogation techniques, “[they] amounted to medical experiments on humans without their consent, which violates all medical ethics, including the Nuremberger code of 1947.”

Holding the US government accountable for these experiments should be done according to national medical legislation, Ribbelink says. As the Bush administration refused to call those held following the September 11 attacks as ‘prisoners of war’, the Geneva convention cannot be applied to the detainees kept at Guantanamo, excluding the possibility to use international law to sue the US.

(Robin van Wechem, “US health professionals accused of engaging in medical experiments,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide, June 11, 2010)

Paul Root Wolpe

Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, reviewed the report and says: “It’s very hard to believe, given everything that I’ve read here, that research was not going on. There’s an enormous amount of circumstantial evidence.”

(Meredith Waldman, “Medics performed ‘interrogation research,’” Nature, June 7, 2010)

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