After the Central Intelligence Agency was given authority to begin torturing suspected terrorists in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, newly published documents show that another of that program’s transgressions, according to experts, was a gross violation of medical ethics that allowed the agency to conduct what amounted to “human experimentation” on people who became test subjects without consent.
“Crime one was torture. The second crime was research without consent in order to say it wasn’t torture.”
—Nathaniel Raymond, Harvard University
Reported exclusively by the Guardian on Monday, sections of a previously classified CIA document—first obtained by the ACLU—reveal that a long-standing policy against allowing people to become unwitting medical or research subjects remained in place and under the purview of the director of the CIA even as the agency began slamming people into walls, beating them intensely, exposing them to prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, performing repeated sessions of waterboarding, and conducting other heinous forms of psychological and physical abuse.
The document details agency guidelines—first established in 1987 during the presidency of Ronald Reagan but subsequently updated—in which the CIA director and an advisory board are directly empowered to make decisions about programs considered “human subject research” by the agency.
As journalist Spencer Ackerman reports:
The relevant section of the CIA document, “Law and Policy Governing the Conduct of Intelligence Agencies”, instructs that the agency “shall not sponsor, contract for, or conduct research on human subjects” outside of instructions on responsible and humane medical practices set for the entire US government by its Department of Health and Human Services.
A keystone of those instructions, the document notes, is the “subject’s informed consent”.