For Immediate Release
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) urgently called on Congress and the Department of Justice, with the involvement of the FBI, to each immediately investigate allegations by detainees that they were forcibly drugged while in US custody. These claims, reported today by the Washington Post, also raise new and deeply troubling questions about what role health professionals may have played in violating detainees' human rights, domestic and international law, and codes of medical ethics established since World War II. The report claims that forced medication may have been used for a number of purposes including as a chemical restraint, as a facilitator of interrogation, and possibly for therapeutic purposes in the absence of informed consent. Any use in interrogation of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to profoundly disrupt the senses or personality is criminal under US law, including the War Crimes Act and the Anti-Torture Statute.
"The forced medication of detainees without their consent, either for interrogation or as a chemical restraint, is an affront to the very foundations of medical ethics," stated Leonard Rubenstein, President of PHR and a legal expert on scientific and medical ethics [SEE BIO BELOW]. "Even if used for purportedly therapeutic purposes, absent very exceptional circumstances, detainees have a right to consent to modes of treatment, just as others do, and the Department of Defense has indeed recognized this right."
Simultaneous Congressional and criminal investigations are necessary, according to PHR, to determine whether medical expertise and personnel were used to drug detainees for purposes of interrogation, sedate them for transport, and to medicate them without their consent for other non-therapeutic purposes. PHR also called on the Department of Defense to investigate whether military physicians and other health professionals have violated their professional ethical standards and detainee rights, including in denying detainees informed consent for therapeutic use of medication.
"There is no acceptable use for mind-altering drugs in interrogation, so any use of medication to aid in interrogation of detainees in US custody would be experimental. As such, it would be a clear violation of international codes and domestic law in place since the doctors' trials at Nuremberg," said Dr. Scott A. Allen, MD, a medical advisor to PHR and Co-Director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University [SEE BIO BELOW]. "Additionally, use of medication as a restraint is unethical. Even therapeutic use of forced medication under US military regulations is not ethically permissible in the absence of informed consent except for the rarest of cases, such as treatment for a highly infectious disease like tuberculosis."
The Helsinki Declaration and the Nuremberg Code establish standards for the protection of individual rights in human experimentation, which are largely codified in US law. They absolutely prohibit human experimentation without the consent of the subject. These ethical rules, the Nuremberg Code in particular, were created in response to human experiments conducted by German health professionals on prisoners during World War II. The doctors involved in those human rights abuses were later convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological torture by the US during its interrogations of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere in its groundbreaking report Break Them Down. The organization has repeatedly called for an end to the use of the SERE tactics by US personnel, the dismantling of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT) teams, and a full Congressional investigation of the use of psychological torture by the US Government, among other recommendations. Additionally, PHR has worked to mobilize the health professional community, particularly the professional associations, such as the American Medical Association, to adopt strong ethical prohibitions against direct participation in interrogations.
Leonard S. Rubenstein, JD is the President of PHR, an organization that mobilizes the health professions to advance human rights. He has been a leader in the effort to end health professional involvement and the use of torture in US national security interrogations since the events of 9/11. Additionally, he has written on issues of medical ethics, including illegal medical experimentation, in Apartheid-era South Africa, the US, including past instances of human experimentation by the CIA, and elsewhere. Mr. Rubenstein has conducted human rights investigations throughout the world and has published widely, from academic journals to the op-ed pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times. He has received numerous awards, including the Health Care Hero Award from the Congressional Minority Caucuses.
Scott A. Allen, MD is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Alpert Medical School, Brown University. He is co-founder and co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at the Miriam Hospital. He is a former state prison medical director and has experience as a researcher in prison settings. He is the lead medical author of the joint report from Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality and currently serves as an advisor to PHR.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.