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A report published by the charity Physicians for Human Rights has documented illegal medical experimentation carried out on prisoners detained on suspicion of involvement in terrorism whilst being held in CIA custody[1]. The report, entitled Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, outlines numerous instances of illegal testing carried out on prisoners in violation of both medical ethics and international treaties.

Among the experiments performed were tests to analyse how detainees would cope with subjection to prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, and experiments which involved adding a saline solution to the water used to simulate drowning during waterboarding sessions in order to prevent complications related to dilution of the blood.

Members of Physicians for Human Rights spent two years carefully analysing declassified but redacted documents pertaining to the treatment of detainees suspected of terrorism who were taken into custody following the attacks of September 11th 2001. The group has called for a congressional investigation into the allegations contained in its report, and has called on the White House to investigate.

According to the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based non-governmental organisation, such experiments – illegal under the Nuremburg Code and Geneva Conventions – were carried out with complicity on the part of CIA-appointed doctors, psychologists and other medical staff. PHR accuses the US government of having used such professionals to shield itself from criminal liability and charges that the physicians involved were complicit in “the routine practice of torture”. Page 9 of the 30 page report states that the experiments undertaken, “had no direct clinical health care application, nor [were they] in the detainee’s personal interest nor part of their medical management”.

The report observes that the illegal experimentation carried out, “appears to have been used primarily to enable the Bush administration to assess the legality of the tactics, and to inform medical monitoring policy and procedure for future application of the techniques”. Page 10 informs that, “US government lawyers used… observational data collected by health professionals… to inform legal evaluations regarding the risk of inflicting certain levels of harm on the detainee, and to shape policy that would guide further application of the technique on other detainees”.

The report reveals that medical professionals under the authority of the US government observed and analysed the effects of sleep deprivation on more than a dozen prisoners in 48, 96 and 180-hour increments. Scott A. Allen, MD, a PHR medical advisor and lead medical author of the report remarked that, “Any health professional [that] violates their ethical codes by employing their professional expertise to calibrate and study the infliction of harm disgraces the health profession and makes a mockery of the practice of medicine”. He stated that any medical practitioner who participated in “unethical human subject research… should be held to account”[2].

Frank Donaghue, Physicians for Human Rights’ Chief Executive Officer, affirmed that it appears that the CIA violated, “accepted legal and ethical standards put in place since the Second World War”, which are designed to protect detainees from inhumane experimentation. Donaghue described the abuses detailed in the group’s report as “gross violations of human rights law” and “a grave affront to America’s core values”[3].

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano responded to the allegations on behalf of the agency, stating that PHR’s report is “just wrong”, and that the CIA did not carry out “human subject research on any detainee or group of detainees”[4].

President Barack Obama officially outlawed the practice of waterboarding not long after taking office, but has controversially preserved an undefined number of “black sites” or clandestine prisons situated in countries whose governments collaborate with the United States, and has preserved the practice of rendition whereby those suspected of broadly defined terror offences can be taken to such sites and “interrogated” with no judicial oversight.

Upon releasing four top secret Bush-era memos, which permitted the CIA to use torture against terror suspects, in April of 2009, President Obama guaranteed immunity to those who had been responsible either for encouraging and authorising such acts or for directly carrying them out. Obama called it a time for “reflection, not retribution”[5], and to date not a single member of the Bush administration has been prosecuted despite overwhelming documented evidence that torture was routinely used against people who had not been charged with any crime.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the administration of George W. Bush in 2002 had authorised the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, including but not limited to: waterboarding, subjecting detainees to extremes of temperature, forced nudity and forcing detainees to maintain stress positions. Such techniques were allowed providing medical staff present ensured prisoners did not endure “severe physical and mental pain”. This arbitrary proviso was widely derided at the time, with critics maintaining that this essentially gave US interrogators, who in many cases were devoid of experience and even basic training, a free hand to administer any type of punishment they saw fit with little interference from the upper echelons of government.

Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, commented that, “President Obama’s assertion that there should not be prosecutions of government officials who may have committed crimes before a thorough investigation has been carried out is simply untenable”, with the ACLU characterising the legal basis for torture as “spurious”.

One memo declassified by the Obama administration, dated 1 August 2002, lists permissible techniques, which include: attention grasp, walling (pushing the detainee into a wall), facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, wall standing, placing a detainee with a fear of insects in a confined box containing insects, and waterboarding.

A secret 2004 US army investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib military prison in Baghdad, Iraq, uncovered evidence of sustained and repeated mistreatment of prisoners held in US custody. The report revealed a damning catalogue of inhumane behaviour which included the following abuses[6]:

  • Sodomising a male detainee with a chemical light and possibly a broomstick
  • Threatening detainees with a charged 9mm pistol
  • A male military police guard having sex with a female detainee
  • Using military working dogs, without muzzles, to intimidate and frighten detainees; in at least one case biting a detainee and causing severe injury
  • Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid onto detainees
  • Beating detainees with a broom handle and chair
  • Pouring cold water on naked detainees
  • Punching, slapping & kicking detainees
  • Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall of his cell
  • Threatening male detainees with rape
  • Jumping on detainees’ naked feet
  • Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees
  • Forcibly arranging detainees in numerous sexually explicit positions in order to photograph them
  • Forcing detainees to strip naked and depriving them of clothing for days at a time
  • Forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear
  • Forcing groups of naked male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed & videotaped
  • Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and jumping on them
  • Positioning a naked male detainee on an MRE box with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes and penis and electrically shocking him
  • Placing a dog chain around a naked male detainee and having a female soldier pose for a photo
  • Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees

The report´s author, Major General Antonio Taguba, later confirmed that photographic evidence from Abu Ghraib which the Obama administration declined to release depicts “sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube”. Taguba described the photographs as providing categoric evidence of “torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.” “The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it”, he added[7].

Senior figures in the Bush administration came in for heavy criticism as it emerged that abuses amounting to torture were widespread both in Iraq and at US-controlled detention facilities in other countries. US Justice Department official John Yoo drew consternation from anti-torture advocates when he endorsed the sexual torture of terror suspects’ children in front of their parents as an acceptable method of extracting a confession[8].

Douglass Cassel, professor at Notre Dame Law School, quizzed Yoo in December of 2005 about an August 2002 memo he had authored, asking, “If the president deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?” “No treaty”, replied Yoo, who in addition to writing many of the memos which cemented the practice of “enhanced interrogation” as accepted policy also wrote extensively in favour of domestic surveillance and wiretapping of citizens of the United States without warrants. Cassel pressed the South Korea-born attorney further, “Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.” “I think it depends on why the President feels he needs to do that,” was Yoo’s now infamous response.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, http://phrtorturepapers.org/?dl_id=9

[2] Evidence Indicates that the Bush Administration Conducted Experiments and Research on Detainees to Design Torture Techniques and Create Legal Cover, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2010-06-07.html

[3] Evidence Indicates that the Bush Administration Conducted Experiments and Research on Detainees to Design Torture Techniques and Create Legal Cover, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2010-06-07.html

[4] Physicians group accuses CIA of testing torture techniques on detainees, http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-torture-20100608,0,1471800.story

[5] Obama releases Bush torture memos – Insects, sleep deprivation and waterboarding among approved techniques by the Bush administration, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/16/torture-memos-bush-administration

[6] Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade, http://www.npr.org/iraq/2004/prison_abuse_report.pdf

[7] Abu Ghraib abuse photos ‘show rape’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/5395830/Abu-Ghraib-abuse-photos-show-rape.html

[8] Meek, mild and menacing, http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/blumenthal/2006/01/12/alito_bush/

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A 70-year gagging order, imposed on photographs and post-mortem records relating to the 2003 death of Dr. David Kelly, has been challenged by some of Britain’s leading medical experts who are seeking to challenge the official verdict of suicide. Michael Powers QC, a former coroner and expert in coronial law who has been working closely with the doctors in attempting to reopen the investigation into Kelly’s death, remarked that the suicide verdict is “so improbable as to demand a much more detailed investigation of what happened”.[1]

The decision to block the release of photos and the post-mortem and medical reports relating to Dr. Kelly’s untimely death was taken by Lord Hutton in his capacity as chairman of the Hutton inquiry, which concluded in 2004 that the leading microbiologist had died after cutting an artery in his wrist. Responding to criticism and disquiet over the revelation that the records had been ordered to remain classified for such an unusually long duration, Hutton affirmed that he had taken the decision to prevent the disclosure of the post-mortem report so as not to cause Kelly’s wife and daughters “unnecessary distress”.[2] Michael Powers QC expressed his amazement as news broke of the extraordinary length of the gagging order, and remarked, “I can’t think of anything that would justify these documents being treated any differently.”

The decision to classify the records for such a long period was not revealed when the Hutton inquiry declared its findings in 2004, and was only made public in January of 2010 when a group of leading medical professionals attempted to reopen the inquest into Dr. Kelly’s death at Oxford Crown Court. Trauma surgeon David Halpin, epidemiologist Andrew Rouse, vascular surgeon Martin Birnstingl, radiologist Stephen Frost and Chris Burns-Cox who specialises in internal general medicine were informed by letter that the relevant material had been classified for 70 years.

Michael Powers QC stated that it was, “truly remarkable that they should be kept secret for twice as long as the other documents”. Powers remarked that the decision to keep the existence of this gagging order secret “raises questions as to what else was withheld” by the Hutton inquiry. “The medical evidence doesn’t add up”, Powers continued, “I have yet to meet a doctor that will say it was even possible, let alone likely [that Kelly committed suicide]”.

Dr. Kelly was 59 when his body was discovered on 18 July 2003 at a wooded area of Harrowdown Hill in Oxfordshire, five miles from his home. The official verdict is that Kelly committed suicide by slashing his wrist with a blunt gardening knife, although medical experts have long questioned this conclusion. In July 2009, 13 leading British pathologists called for an official inquest into Kelly’s death, publishing a 12-page dossier which stated that “the bleeding from Dr. Kelly’s ulnar artery is highly unlikely to have been so voluminous and rapid that it was the cause of death”.[3] Martin Birnstingl, one of Britain’s leading vascular surgeons and one of those demanding a new inquiry into Kelly’s death said, “’I have never, in my experience, heard of a case where someone has died after cutting their ulnar artery”.[4]

The paramedics who were among the first on the scene following the discovery of Kelly’s body stated that the amount of blood at they saw at the location where Kelly lay and the injuries to his wrist were inconsistent with the suicide verdict. Paramedic Vanessa May remarked, “I just think it is incredibly unlikely that he died from the wrist wound we saw”, with her colleague Dave Bartlett concurring. “I would have thought there would have been more blood over the body if someone had bled to death“, he told The Observer.[5] In addition to these inconsistencies, the nearly-empty Co-Proxamol packet next to the microbiologist’s body indicated that he had consumed 29 painkillers, although an examination of his stomach revealed only one partially digested capsule.

Although Dr. Kelly was left-handed, the cut from which he allegedly bled to death was made on his left wrist, meaning he would have had to awkwardly make the incision using his right hand. Although Kelly was not wearing gloves when his body was found, the knife he is said to have used had no fingerprints on it whatsoever. Trauma surgeon David Halpin, one of the pathologists seeking a fresh inquest into Kelly’s death, observed of the discrepancies in the official verdict that, “The idea that a man like Dr. Kelly would choose to end his life like that is preposterous. This was a scientist, an expert on drugs.”

Kelly, who had worked for the United Nations as a weapons inspector in Iraq, had been implicated in the run up to his death as the source of a BBC report which questioned the grounds for Britain’s role in the 2003 invasion of the Middle Eastern nation, and much of the attention surrounding his suspicious death has focused on this fact, however other information has since surfaced which casts the microbiologist’s passing in an entirely different light, and shows Dr. David Kelly to be but one piece of a much larger puzzle.

One of the world’s leading germ warfare experts and head of microbiology at Porton Down, home of Britain’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Kelly had a considerable reputation within the international intelligence community. His prominence is underlined by the fact that on one occasion he was tasked with debriefing Russian biochemist Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik – who would also die in suspicious circumstances attributed to suicide – who had defected from the Soviet Union. The Daily Mail noted in July of 2009 that Kelly had access to “some of the state’s most sensitive information and worked closely with the intelligence services of all the major industrialised countries”. Indeed, Kelly had worked as an advisor to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency since 1995 with the full knowledge of the British government.

With years of experience handling sensitive and above top secret material behind him, Dr. Kelly was certainly aware of information that could prove damaging if released. Author Gordon Thomas stated that Dr. Kelly, “had explored with two or three writers [including myself]… the possibility that he could write a book, about his life. I said to him at the time, ‘you know, David, you signed the Official Secrets Act’, he said ‘I know, I’ll need somebody else to write it with the information I provide’, and I said ‘but you know, you won’t get away with it David.’”. The Daily Express reported that Kelly had been planning to disclose information regarding “his own secret dealings in germ warfare with the apartheid regime in South Africa”.[6]

South African cardiologist and head of the apartheid-era chemical and biological warfare programme Project Coast, Wouter Basson, confirmed in an interview – his first for several years – featured in CBC’s The Passionate Eye – Anthrax War documentary that he had met Dr. Kelly “three or four” times.[7] Basson stated that he had liaised with Kelly in order to exchange information, and refused to answer when questioned as to whether or not he had met the microbiologist at Britain’s highly secretive and well-guarded Porton Down research facility in Wiltshire.

Wouter Basson did however confirm that he had personally visited the site, along with Fort Detrick, Maryland in the United States, another notorious biological weapon research facility. The Ames-strain anthrax used in a series of highly publicised attacks in the United States shortly after the September 11th attacks in 2001 is confirmed to have been developed by the U.S. military at Fort Detrick.[8] Incredibly, the FBI’s principle suspect in the anthrax case – Bruce Ivins – also committed ‘suicide’ in extremely dubious circumstances in August 2008, allegedly overdosing on Tylenol and codeine.[9] Dr. Kelly also had experience working with anthrax, which Porton Down had received from Fort Detrick in the 1980’s, with the Daily Mail confirming that Kelly had, “tens of thousands of documents and photographs; some [showing] human victims of anthrax poisoning” at his Oxfordshire home.

When probed as to whether or not he was involved in the development of ethno-specific biological agents, Basson stated on record that, “What happened is we had the objective to synthesise a certain protein that was in sperm for contraceptive purposes. The objective was that if you could immunise a woman, against sperm, then you would make her infertile.” The scientist elaborated: “We were asked to do this by another country that had a population explosion problem, as part of an exchange of technology. They were giving us other stuff, they asked, well we haven’t got the time or the place to do that, will you guys do that”.

The mention of collaboration with another country is an apparent reference to Israeli cooperation, which was instrumental in the apartheid regime’s quest to procure nuclear weapons. As Chris McGreal writes in The Guardian, “Israel provided expertise and technology that was central to South Africa’s development of its nuclear bombs”.[10] In return, apartheid South Africa worked with Israel and shared research about race-specific biological agents. In November 1998 The Sunday Times reported that “Israel is working on a biological weapon that would harm Arabs but not Jews, according to Israeli military and western intelligence sources”, and although there is now no trace of the article on the newspaper’s website, it has been republished at several other locations.[11]

The Sunday Times reported that “Israeli scientists are trying to exploit medical advances by identifying distinctive genes carried by some Arabs, then create a genetically modified bacterium or virus… The scientists are trying to engineer deadly micro-organisms that attack only those bearing the distinctive genes”. This work is reportedly conducted at Israel’s Nes Tziyona chemical and biological research facility, one of the most secure locations in the country. The Israeli scientists who revealed this information to the London newspaper stated that the agents could be transmitted by “spraying the organisms into the air or putting them in water supplies”.

The article points out that such research “mirrors biological studies conducted by South African scientists during the apartheid era and revealed in testimony before the truth and reconciliation commission”. It was at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in 1996 that the existence of Project Coast first came to light. Scientists who had worked on the project testified that they had worked on developing targeted assassination tools engineered to leave no trace, as well as mass-sterilisation techniques designed for use against the country’s black population.

Wouter Basson, who was called before the Commission, did not admit to any involvement in the aforementioned programmes and thus did not earn the immunity from prosecution guaranteed to all those who acknowledged and admitted to their apartheid-era wrongdoings. In 1999 Basson was indicted in South Africa on charges of murder, fraud and drug smuggling, but was acquitted following a 30-month trial due to insufficient evidence. It was at this trial that it emerged that Project Coast, which had employed over 200 scientists in South Africa and benefitted from extensive international intelligence connections, had supplied anthrax and cholera to the South African military and police.

“Unnamed South African sources” also disclosed to Jane’s Foreign Report, a publication specialising in ‘security and defence matters’, that “Israeli scientists have used some of the South African research in trying to develop an “ethnic bullet” against Arabs”, according to the Sunday Times article. According to Foreign Report, Israeli scientists were able to pinpoint certain elements of Arab genetic make-up by carrying out tests on “Jews of Arab origin, especially Iraqis”.

This revelation is reminiscent of the 1950’s radiation experiments carried out by the Israeli state, during which over 100,000 Sephardic children were exposed to radiation 35,000 (thirty-five thousand) times over the recommended maximum dosage as part of an experiment paid for by the United States government. The children were selected from the darker-skinned elements of the Israeli population, many of whom had emigrated to Israel having been expelled from Morocco, and were told they were to receive head lice examinations before being subjected to devastating radiation exposure to the head. 6,000 died shortly after the experiment was conducted, and the survivors suffered from a range of debilitating conditions as a result of the experiments, with many still alive today. Their story is told in the award-winning Israeli documentary The Ringworm Children.[12]

A confidential Pentagon report from 1997 confirmed that biological weapons could and were being engineered to target specific genotypes. U.S. Defense Secretary from 1997 to 2001, William Cohen, stated that “certain types of pathogens that would be ethnic-specific” were being developed by some countries, with a senior western intelligence source confirming that this list of countries included Israel, for whose intelligence services Dr. David Kelly was working as an advisor at the time. The infamous Rebuilding America’s Defenses document published in September 2000 by the Project for a New American Century think tank, whose membership included prominent figures from the administration of George W. Bush such as Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, remarks that “advanced forms of warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool”.[13]

Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes Norman Baker has repeatedly called for a new and independent inquest into the circumstances surrounding Dr. David Kelly’s alleged suicide. “Any reasonable person looking at the evidence would, at the very least, agree that further investigation is necessary,” Baker said in a 2006 interview. “If it wasn’t suicide, then clearly Dr Kelly was bumped off. My aim is to find out exactly what happened. Frankly, there is more than enough cause to reopen the inquest.”[14] Michael Powers QC put it succinctly, “There should be a full inquiry. We need a proper answer.” The implications are far greater than the fate of just one man.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Gagging order on David Kelly records could be lifted, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jan/27/hutton-gagging-order-david-kelly

[2]Hutton inquiry closed David Kelly medical reports for 70 years,  http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jan/27/hutton-gagging-order-david-kelly

[3] 13 doctors demand inquest into Dr David Kelly’s death, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1199109/13-doctors-demand-inquest-Dr-David-Kellys-death.html

[4] Did MI5 kill Dr David Kelly?, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1200004/Did-MI5-kill-Dr-David-Kelly-Another-crazy-conspiracy-theory-amid-claims-wrote-tell-book-vanished-death.html

[5] Medics raise Kelly death doubts , http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4089729.stm

[6] KELLY’S BOOK OF SECRETS, http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/111971/Kelly-s-book-of-secrets

[7] CBC – The Passionate Eye – Anthrax War, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shsQFGGU6uk&feature=related

[8] George Monbiot – Riddle of the Spores, http://www.counterpunch.org/monbiot0521.html

[9] Fort Detrick Scientist “Commits Suicide” as Anthrax investigation closes in, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9730

[10] Brothers in arms – Israel’s secret pact with Pretoria, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/feb/07/southafrica.israel

[11] Israel Planning ’Ethnic’ Bomb as Saddam Caves In, http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/esp_sociopol_depopu17a.htm

[12] The Ringworm Children, http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6118144849760405404#

[13] Rebuilding America’s Defenses, http://newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf

[14] Why I believe David Kelly’s death may have been murder, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-397256/Why-I-believe-David-Kellys-death-murder-MP.html

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