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CIA torture appears to have broken spy agency rule on human experimentation

Spencer Ackerman

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June 15, 2015

Exclusive: Watchdogs shocked at ‘disconnect’ between doctors who oversaw interrogation and guidelines that gave CIA director power over medical ethics

The Central Intelligence Agency had explicit guidelines for “human experimentation” – before, during and after its post-9/11 torture of terrorism detainees – that raise new questions about the limits on the agency’s in-house and contracted medical research.

Sections of a previously classified CIA document, made public by the Guardian on Monday, empower the agency’s director to “approve, modify, or disapprove all proposals pertaining to human subject research”. The leeway provides the director, who has never in the agency’s history been a medical doctor, with significant influence over limitations the US government sets to preserve safe, humane and ethical procedures on people.

CIA director George Tenet approved abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, designed by CIA contractor psychologists. He further instructed the agency’s health personnel to oversee the brutal interrogations – the beginning of years of controversy, still ongoing, about US torture as a violation of medical ethics.

But the revelation of the guidelines has prompted critics of CIA torture to question how the agency could have ever implemented what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” – despite apparently having rules against “research on human subjects” without their informed consent.

Indeed, despite the lurid name, doctors, human-rights workers and intelligence experts consulted by the Guardian said the agency’s human-experimentation rules were consistent with responsible medical practices. The CIA, however, redacted one of the four subsections on human experimentation.

“The more words you have, the more you can twist them, but it’s not a bad definition,” said Scott Allen, an internist and medical adviser to Physicians for Human Rights.

The agency confirmed to the Guardian that the document was still in effect during the lifespan of the controversial rendition, detention and interrogation program.