Physicians for Human Rights has released a 27-page report which clearly documents what we already know: The Bush Administration tortured detainees
June 7, 2010

Physicians for Human Rights has released a 27-page report which clearly documents what we already know: The Bush Administration tortured detainees. The more startling conclusion is this: The Bush Administration experimented on those detainees in order to refine, define and justify their torture regimen.

Nothing like setting the bar, jumping over it, then defining that bar for everyone else as some sort of standard. Yet that's exactly what they did. Among the specific experiments:

Documenting effects of sleep deprivation on prisoners

Via Truthout:

For example, one current and three former CIA officials said some videotapes showed Zubaydah being sleep deprived for more than two weeks. Contractors hired by the CIA studied how he responded psychologically and physically to being kept awake for that amount of time. By looking at videotapes, they concluded that after the 11th consecutive day of being kept awake Zubaydah started to "severely break down." So, the torture memo signed by former OLC head Jay Bybee concluded that 11 days of sleep deprivation was legal and did not meet the definition of torture.

PHR's analysis on sleep deprivation concluded, based on a review of documents, that "government lawyers used observational data collected by health professionals from varying applications of sleep deprivation to inform legal evaluations regarding the risk of inflicting certain levels of harm on the detainee, and to shape policy that would guide further application of the technique."

Monitoring and reporting specific data with regard to different waterboarding techniques.

From the report:

OMS health professionals were directed by their superiors at CIA to collect information on, and apply their findings to the application of waterboarding. That knowledge appears explicitly intended to be used to “best inform future medical judgments,” or to develop generalizable knowledge about new procedures for applying the technique of waterboarding.

Here's what we knew about waterboarding before the experiments:

A rigid guide to the medically approved use of the waterboard in essentially healthy individuals is not possible, as safety will depend on how the water is applied and the specific response each time it is used. The following general guidelines are based on very limited knowledge, drawn from very few subjects whose experience and response was quite varied.

So the CIA and Bush Administration stepped up and said, "Well hey-ho, let's just see if we can study that a little and come up with some standards for torturing detainees. If we kill a few, who cares?"

Subsequently, in 2005 the "combined techniques" memo was released, which stated the following:

We understand that these limitations have been established with extensive input from OMS, based on experience to date with this technique and OMS’s professional judgment that use of the waterboard on a healthy individual subject to these limitations would be ‘medically acceptable.'

The plan went like this: Choose techniques where experimentation had not been conducted, where experience was varied, and document what happens. Use that documentation to justify the procedure as something other than torture. If they can go for 11 days without sleep before having a complete breakdown, then set the limit at 11 days and tell the American and international public no torture occurred. If you can pour saline up their nose for 10 minutes while blindfolded and helpless without the prisoner having a complete break with reality, but 11 minutes is the break point (on average) then hey, stick with 10 minutes.

In other words, use torture to justify torture, which is what this report concludes.

"Waterboarding 2.0" was the product of the CIA’s developing and field-testing an intentionally harmful practice using systematic medical monitoring and the application of subsequent generalizable knowledge.

Similar experiments, data gathering and modification to techniques were done to calibrate what an "acceptable level of pain" might be before it rose to the level of torture.

Intentional infliction of pain on detainees in order to determine "an acceptable level". I've had a toothache all weekend. I don't find the level of pain to be acceptable at all. Yet, the Cheney/Bush regime thought it perfectly moral and ethical to turn up the pain inflictors to determine when they would cross some magical 'threshold'.

From the 2005 OLC memo:

Other than the waterboard, the specific techniques under consideration in this memorandum – including sleep deprivation – have been applied to more than 25 detainees. See [redacted] Fax at 1-3. No apparent increase in susceptibility to severe pain has been observed either when techniques are used sequentially or when they are used simultaneously – for example, when an insult slap is simultaneously combined with water dousing or a kneeling stress position, or when wall standing is simultaneously combined with an abdominal slap and water dousing. Nor does experience show that, even apart from changes in susceptibility to pain, combinations of these techniques cause the techniques to operate differently so as to cause severe pain. OMS doctors and psychologists, moreover, confirm that they expect that the techniques, when combined as described in the Background Paper and in the April 22 [redacted] Fax, would not operate in a different manner from the way they do individually, so as to cause severe pain.

It seems to me this clearly states that a)experiments were conducted with various combinations of humiliating, painful, frightening techniques; and, b)they were conducted with the express goal of stretching existing torture definitions farther out.

Why, why, why?

PHR concludes there were three reasons for the experiments:

  1. To expand the knowledge base with respect to "enhanced interrogation techniques" for all.
  2. To calibrate levels of pain and suffering in order to set limits for OLC memos.
  3. To provide a basis for a "good faith" legal defense against torture charges.

PHR further concludes that crimes have been committed; specifically:

  • Violation of the Geneva Conventions
  • Contravention of the Nuremberg Code
  • Disregard and amendment of the War Crimes Act with regard to biological experiments.

    This one is really chilling. In 2006, amended language was tacked onto the Military Commissions Act amending the WCA to weaken the Geneva conventions by specifying a prohibition on "biological experiments." The Geneva Conventions specify "physical mutilation or scientific experiments of ANY KIND."

There are nine recommendations at the end of the report. They call for investigations by Congress, the DOJ and the military. They also call for an executive order from the President to suspend any secret human subject research which may be going on, whether it relates to detainees or not. There are recommendations for the states and the UN as well, but the bottom line is this: If we do not, as a nation, commit to respect human rights and dignity, even of those we call enemy, we are weaker, more vulnerable, and lack moral standing to lead.

There is one more recommendation I'd make. Since Dick Cheney and George W. Bush have both freely confessed to embrace the torture and experimentation of and on detainees, they should be willing to stand trial for those choices in a public court of law, and be prepared to accept the consequences, too.

Bonus link

Can you help us out?

For 18 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.