The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jonathan Hutson
jhutson [at] phrusa [dot] org
Mobile: +1-857-919-5130

PHR Analysis: CIA Health Professionals' Role in Torture Worse Than Previously Known


The extent to which American physicians and psychologists violated
human rights and betrayed the ethical standards of their professions by
designing, implementing, and legitimizing a worldwide torture program
is greater than previously known, according to a report by Physicians
for Human Rights (PHR).

A team of PHR doctors authored the new white paper, Aiding Torture:
Health Professionals' Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated
in the May 2004 Inspector General's Report. The report details how the
CIA relied on medical expertise to rationalize and carry out abusive
and unlawful interrogations. It also refers to aggregate collection of
data on detainees' reaction to interrogation methods. PHR is concerned
that this data collection and analysis may amount to human
experimentation and calls for more investigation on this point. If
confirmed, the development of a research protocol to assess and refine
the use of the waterboard or other techniques would likely constitute a
new, previously unknown category of ethical violations committed by CIA
physicians and psychologists.

"Medical doctors and psychologists colluded with the CIA to keep
observational records about waterboarding, which approaches unethical
and unlawful human experimentation," says PHR Medical Advisor and lead
report author Scott Allen, MD. For example, "Interrogators would place
a cloth over a detainee's face to block breathing and induce feelings
of fear, helplessness, and a loss of control. A doctor would stand by
to monitor and calibrate this physically and psychologically harmful
act, which amounts to torture. It is profoundly unsettling to learn of
the central role of health professionals in laying a foundation for US
government lawyers to rationalize the CIA's illegal torture program."

The Inspector General's report documents some practices -- previously
unknown or unconfirmed -- that were used to bring about excruciating
pain, terror, humiliation, and shame for months on end. These practices

  • Mock executions;
  • Brandishing guns and power drills;
  • Threats to sexually assault family members and murder children;
  • "Walling" -- repeatedly slamming an unresponsive detainee's head against a cell wall; and
  • Confinement in a box.

"These unlawful, unethical, and ineffective interrogation tactics
cause significant bodily and mental harm," said co-author and PHR
Senior Medical Advisor Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD. "The CIA Inspector
General's report confirms that torture escalates in severity and
torturers frequently go beyond approved techniques."

"The required presence of health professionals did not make
interrogation methods safer, but sanitized their use, escalated abuse,
and placed doctors and psychologists in the untenable position of
calibrating harm rather than serving as protectors and healers. The
fact that psychologists went beyond monitoring, and actually designed
and implemented these abuses - while simultaneously serving as 'safety
monitors' - reveals the ethical bankruptcy of the entire program,"
stated co-author Steven Reisner, PhD, PHR's Psychological Ethics

"That health professionals who swear to oaths of healing so abused
the sacred trust society places in us by instigating, legitimizing and
participating in torture, is an abomination," states co-author Allen
Keller, MD, Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of
Torture. "Health professionals who aided torture must be held
accountable by professional associations, by state licensing boards,
and by society. Accountability is essential to maintain trust in our
professions and to end torture, which scars bodies and minds, leaving
survivors to endure debilitating injuries, humiliating memories and
haunting nightmares."

PHR has called for full investigation and remedies, including
accountability for war crimes, and reparation, such as compensation,
medical care and psycho-social services. PHR also calls for health
professionals who have violated ethical standards or the law to be held
accountable through criminal prosecution, loss of license and loss of
professional society membership where appropriate.

To download PHR's Aiding Torture, visit

Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological
and physical torture by US personnel against detainees held at
Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase, and elsewhere in its
groundbreaking reports, Break Them Down, Leave No Marks, and Broken
Laws, Broken Lives.

PHR was founded in 1986 on the idea that health professionals, with their specialized skills, ethical duties, and credible voices, are uniquely positioned to investigate the health consequences of human rights violations and work to stop them. PHR mobilizes health professionals to advance health, dignity, and justice and promotes the right to health for all.