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June 09, 2010

Exclusive: Senate Intel Committee to Consider PHR Findings on Torture Experiments

Posted in: OLC,Senate,Torture

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s press office kindly returned my phone query the other day about her response to the revelations in the new Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) report, “Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program” (PDF). Sen. Feinstein’s response indicated that the Senate Intelligence Committee would examine PHR’s findings.

PHR’s investigation showed that doctors and psychologists involved in the Bush Administration’s CIA “enhanced interrogation” torture program apparently used high-value detainees as guinea pigs in experiments to determine how they could refine the torture techniques to get by the law. Of course, they were assisted in this by the lawyers of the Office of Legal Counsel, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, and later Steven Bradbury. Then, in 2006, the Bush Administration had Congress rewrite the War Crimes Act to soften the restrictions against “biological experimentation.” I’ve been following this story actively (see here and here).

I was especially curious to see what, if anything, Sen. Feinstein had to say, because she is the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. As Jason Leopold reported in April, the Committee has begun an investigation into the torture and detention policies surrounding the high-value detainees, particularly the treatment of Abu Zubaydah, who “the Bush administration wrongly claimed was one of the planners of 9/11 and a top al-Qaeda operative.” Zubaydah was famously the subject of the second August 2002 OLC Bybee memo approving the use of torture techniques like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, putting insects in a confinement box, stress positions and other techniques meant to break down the mind and body of prisoners.

This was the e-mail response from Sen. Feinstein’s office (emphasis added):  . . .

“The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting a review of the CIA detention and interrogation program,” Senator Feinstein said. “This review includes both the use of CIA medical personnel in administering coercive interrogation techniques and the effects of prolonged detention on the individuals in CIA custody. This is the most detailed and comprehensive review of the CIA detention and interrogation program ever conducted. The findings of the new report from Physicians for Human Rights will be considered in our review, and I will have further comment on this when the report is completed.

This is promising news for those of us–and I believe that constitutes the majority of the country–who wish to see justice done about torture and other crimes, like illegal human experimentation and unethical research, conducted by officials and medical professionals on behalf of the United States government.

I know there are many people who are pessimistic about the government seriously investigating these crimes. I have had my own doubts. Certainly, President Barack Obama has made it clear that he wants to “move forward,” and has not been favorably disposed toward an investigation of the crimes of the Bush years. Others have noted that Obama himself has now become the beneficiary of executive immunity for what can only be classified as illegal actions above and beyond the law. Glenn Greenwald put it well in a column on Tuesday, noting that Obama has “engaged in extreme measures to carry out that imperial, Orwellian dictate by shielding those crimes from investigation, review, adjudication and accountability”:

All of that would be bad enough if his generous immunity were being applied across the board.  But it isn’t.  Numerous incidents now demonstrate that as high-level Bush lawbreakers are vested with presidential immunity, low-level whistle blowers who exposed serious wrongdoing and allowed citizens some minimal glimpse into what our government does are being persecuted by the Obama administration with a vengeance.  Yesterday it was revealed by Wired that the Army intelligence officer analyst who reportedly leaked the Apache helicopter attack video to Wikileaks–and thus enabled Americans to see what we are really doing in Iraq and other countries which we occupy and attack–has been arrested….

A failure of the movement for accountability for torture will only embolden those sectors of the government that seek carte blanche in their efforts to subordinate the entire nation to endless militarism, the better to fill the pocketbooks of the industries and academic think tanks that staff the effort, not to mention the many medals and military careers that rest upon such an enterprise. Even more, like a parasite that lives upon a host and then takes over the living body of its victim, the torturers and would-be Mengeles will feel they have free rein for the most diabolical adventures in evil.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and I don’t believe it will be that way. In the end, this is not a torturing country. This is not a nation that believes in turning vulnerable, imprisoned human beings into lab rats for CIA or DoD bullies. This nation was founded on something else, on the Bill of Rights, on Enlightenment ideals that eschewed torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners, and believed in equality under the law. There were huge contradictions from the beginning–slavery, the extermination policy toward Native Americans, limitations on women’s rights–and it has been and continues to be a struggle to realize the ideals with which this country was founded.

If torture and inhumane, illegal experimentation and research are allowed to flourish, without punishment, without an accounting for what has been and evidently still is being done, then we can kiss this country goodbye, and the glorious experiment must pass on to other hands.

I ask Senator Feinstein and her colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee to be cognizant of that. I believe that public hearings and a full, open, transparent investigation, with full subpoena power, followed by a criminal investigation, are required. With the news from Senator Feinstein’s office, and the “New York Times” editorial yesterday calling for investigations, we have a good beginning. As for PHR, it’s expected to  file imminently, along with other prominent individuals and organizations, a complaint with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP). It will ask for an OHRP investigation of the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, whose medical professionals were intimately involved in the monitoring  and research activities related to the torture interrogations.

We all know we have a steep hill to climb to bring about real accountability and expose the full extent of the torture program. But then, the fight for equality and liberty never came easily, and in the end, that’s what this is all about. Torture and war crimes like illegal human experimentation obliterate the meaningfulness of such ideals. We know what’s at stake here, and so do they. The battle is enjoined joined.

For more on PHR’s report, and the latest news about what is happening with its campaign, see the website phrtorturepapers.org.


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