Interrogation Memos Detail Psychologists' Involvement; Ethicists Outraged
Saturday, April 18, 2009
When the CIA began what it called an "increased pressure phase" with captured terrorism suspect Abu Zubaida in the summer of 2002, its first step was to limit the detainee's human contact to just two people. One was the CIA interrogator, the other a psychologist.
During the extraordinary weeks that followed, it was the psychologist who apparently played the more critical role. According to newly released Justice Department documents, the psychologist provided ideas, practical advice and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break Abu Zubaida, physically and mentally. Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear -- all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so.
"No severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted," a Justice Department lawyer said in a 2002 memo explaining why waterboarding, or simulated drowning, should not be considered torture.
The role of health professionals as described in the documents has prompted a renewed outcry from ethicists who say the conduct of psychologists and supervising physicians violated basic standards of their professions.
Their names are among the few details censored in the long-concealed Bush administration memos released Thursday, but the documents show a steady stream of psychologists, physicians and other health officials who both kept detainees alive and actively participated in designing the interrogation program and monitoring its implementation. Their presence also enabled the government to argue that the interrogations did not include torture.
Most of the psychologists were contract employees of the CIA, according to intelligence officials familiar with the program.
"The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology," said Frank Donaghue, chief executive of Physicians for Human Rights, an international advocacy group made up of physicians opposed to torture. "All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again."
The CIA declined to comment yesterday on the role played by health professionals in the agency's self-described "enhanced interrogation program," which operated from 2002 to 2006 in various secret prisons overseas.
"The fact remains that CIA's detention and interrogation effort was authorized and approved by our government," CIA Director Leon Panetta said Thursday in a statement to employees. The Obama administration and its top intelligence leaders have banned harsh interrogations while also strongly opposing investigations or penalties for employees who were following their government's orders.
The CIA dispatched personnel from its office of medical services to each secret prison and evaluated medical professionals involved in interrogations "to make sure they could stand up, psychologically handle it," according to a former CIA official.
The alleged actions of medical professionals in the secret prisons are viewed as particularly troubling by an array of groups, including the American Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
AMA policies state that physicians "must not be present when torture is used or threatened." The guidelines allow doctors to treat detainees only "if doing so is in their [detainees'] best interest" and not merely to monitor their health "so that torture can begin or continue."