Human rights groups this week have asked the US Department of Health and Human Services to further investigate allegations against the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for conducting medical experiments on detainees.
A report released by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) on Wednesday provides details indicating that the US government under President George W. Bush had conducted human research and experiments on prisoners after September 11, 2001, attacks.
The doctors and medical staff witnessed waterboarding, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, temperature extremes and prolonged isolation among other techniques.
A coalition of eight human rights groups, including PHR, has since filed a complaint with the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP). OHRP investigates violations of ethics regarding human subject research that is funded or conducted by the US government.
OHRP can sanction seventeen federal agencies, including the CIA, with suspension of research funds as well as referral of cases to other agencies, including the US Department of Justice.
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.
Prisoners of war
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.