How Paul Wolfowitz Authorized Human Experimentation at Guantánamo


Last week, Truthout published an important article by Jason Leopold, Truthout’s Deputy Managing Editor, and psychologist and blogger Jeffrey Kaye, revealing,
for the first time, a secret memorandum dated March 25, 2002, approved
by deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, which authorized human
experimentation on detainees in the “War on Terror.” The release of the
memo followed some little-noticed maneuvering in Congress in December
2001, when the requirement of “informed consent” in any experimentation
by the Defense Department (introduced in 1972) was quietly dropped.
The article — which involved over a year of research, as Leopold and Kaye persuaded former officials to open up to them — not only adds to Leopold’s important work and to Kaye’s formidable track record
as a chronicler of the development of human experimentation in the Bush
administration’s “War on Terror” torture program (which he has also
revealed as part of an obsession with human experimentation reaching
back to the 1950s), but also confirms the existence of an important new
front in the struggle to raise awareness of the horrors of torture, and
the requirement that those who authorized it be held accountable for their crimes.
Leopold and Kaye delivered a presentation about their article the day after its publication, as part of “Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week, and their work on human experimentation added to a compelling catalog of the many reasons why the acceptance of torture must continue to be
opposed, which I developed during the week: namely, that it is not only
illegal, morally corrosive, counterproductive and unnecessary, but also
that, at its heart, the Bush-era torture program continued work in the
field of human experimentation that the US took over from the Nazis, and
also involved treasonous lies on the part of senior officials, who
pretended that the program was designed to prevent future terrorist
attacks, when, from the very beginning (in late November 2001, according to Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff), it was actually being used to extract false confessions about connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that could be used in an attempt to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
The article is cross-posted below (and I’ve added some additional links).
Wolfowitz Directive Gave Legal Cover to Detainee Experimentation Program
By Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye, Truthout, October 14, 2010
In 2002, as the Bush administration was turning to torture and other brutal techniques for interrogating “war on terror” detainees, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz loosened rules against human
experimentation, an apparent recognition of legal problems regarding the
novel strategies for extracting and evaluating information from the
Wolfowitz issued a little-known directive on March 25, 2002, about a month after President George W. Bush stripped the detainees of traditional prisoner-of-war protections under the Geneva Conventions [PDF].
Bush labeled them “unlawful enemy combatants” and authorized the CIA
and the Department of Defense (DoD) to undertake brutal interrogations.
Despite its title — “Protection of Human Subjects and Adherence to Ethical Standards in DoD-Supported Research” (PDF) — the Wolfowitz directive weakened protections that had been in place for decades by limiting the safeguards to “prisoners of war.”
“We’re dealing with a special breed of person here,” Wolfowitz said about the war on terror detainees only four days before signing the new directive.
One former Pentagon official, who worked closely with the DoD’s ex-general counsel William Haynes, said the Wolfowitz directive provided legal cover for a top-secret Special Access Program at the Guantánamo Bay prison, which experimented
on ways to glean information from unwilling subjects and to achieve
“deception detection.”
“A dozen [high-value detainees] were subjected to interrogation methods in order to evaluate their reaction to those methods and the subsequent levels of stress that would result,” said the official.
A July 16, 2004 Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) report obtained by Truthout shows that between April and July 2003, a “physiological warfare specialist” attached to the military’s Survival,
Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program was present at Guantánamo.
The CID report says the instructor was assigned to a top-secret Special
Access Program.
In his book The Terror Presidency, Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, said Wolfowitz was “put in charge of questions regarding
detainees” at Guantánamo. Goldsmith also previously worked with Haynes
at the Pentagon.
It has been known since 2009, when President Barack Obama declassified some of the Bush administration’s legal memoranda regarding the interrogation program, that there were experimental elements to the
brutal treatment of detainees, including the sequencing and duration of
the torture and other harsh tactics.
However, the Wolfowitz directive also suggests that the Bush administration was concerned about whether its actions might violate Geneva Conventions rules that were put in place after World War II when
grisly Nazi human experimentation was discovered. Those legal
restrictions were expanded in the 1970s after revelations about the CIA
testing drugs on unsuspecting human subjects and conducting other
mind-control experiments.
For its part, the DoD insists that it “has never condoned nor authorized the use of human research testing on any detainee in our custody,” according to spokeswoman Wendy Snyder.
However, from the start of the war on terror, the Bush administration employed nontraditional methods for designing interrogation protocols, including the reverse engineering of training given to American troops
trapped behind enemy lines, called the SERE techniques. For instance, the controlled-drowning technique of waterboarding was lifted from SERE manuals.
Shielding Rumsfeld
Retired US Air Force Capt. Michael Shawn Kearns, a former SERE intelligence officer, said the Wolfowitz directive appears to be a clear attempt to
shield then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from the legal
consequences of “any dubious research practices associated with the
interrogation program.”
Scott Horton, a human rights attorney and constitutional expert, noted Wolfowitz’s specific reference to “prisoners of war” as protected under the
directive, as opposed to referring more generally to detainees or people
under the government’s control:
“At the time that Wolfowitz was issuing this directive, the Bush administration was taking the adamant position that prisoners taken in the’ war on terror’ were not ‘prisoners of war’ under the Geneva
Conventions and were not entitled to any of the protections of the
Geneva Conventions. Indeed, it called those protections ‘privileges’
that were available only to ‘lawful combatants.’ So the statement [in
the directive] that ‘prisoners of war’ cannot be subjects of human
experimentation … raises some concerns — why was the more restrictive
term ‘prisoners of war’ used instead of ‘prisoners,’ for instance?”
The Wolfowitz directive also changed other rules regarding waivers of informed consent. After the scandals over the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program and the Tuskegee experiments on African-Americans suffering from syphilis, Congress passed legislation known as the Common Rule to provide protections to human
research subjects.
The Common Rule “requires a review of proposed research by an Institutional Review Board (IRB), the informed consent of research subjects, and institutional assurances of compliance with the
Individuals who lack the capacity to provide “informed consent” must have an IRB determine if they would benefit from the proposed research. In certain cases, that decision could also be made by the subject’s
“legal representative.”
However, according to the Wolfowitz directive, waivers of informed consent could be granted by the heads of DoD divisions.
Professor Alexander M. Capron, who oversees human rights and health law at the World Health Organization, said the delegation of the power to waive informed consent procedures to Pentagon officials is
“controversial both because it involves a waiver of the normal
requirements and because the grounds for that waiver are so open-ended.”
The Wolfowitz directive also changes language that had required DoD researchers to strictly adhere to the Nuremberg Directives for Human Experimentation and other precedents when conducting human subject research.
The Nuremberg Code, which was a response to the Nazi atrocities, made “the voluntary consent of the human subject … absolutely essential.” However, the Wolfowitz directive softened a requirement of strict
compliance to this code, instructing researchers simply to be “familiar”
with its contents.
“Why are DoD-funded investigators just required to be ‘familiar’ with the Nuremberg Code rather than required to comply with them?” asked Stephen Soldz, director of the Center for Research, Evaluation and Program Development at Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis.
Soldz also wondered why “enforcement was moved from the Army Surgeon General or someone else in the medical chain of command to the Director of Defense Research and Engineering” and why “this directive changed at
this time, as the ‘war on terror’ was getting going.”
Soldz is co-author of a report published in June by the international doctors’ organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which found that high-value detainees who were subjected to brutal torture techniques by the CIA were used as “guinea pigs” to gauge the
effectiveness of the various “enhanced interrogation” methods. PHR told
Truthout it first examined the Wolfowitz directive and changes Congress
made to 10 USC 980, the law that governs how the Defense Department
spends federal funds on human experimentation, in 2008 while preparing
its report, but did not cite either because the group could not explain
its significance.
Treating Soldiers
The original impetus for the changes seems to have related more to the use of experimental therapies on US soldiers facing potential biological and other dangers in war zones.
The House Armed Services Committee proposed amending 10 USC 980 prior to the 9/11 attacks. But the Bush administration pressed for the changes after 9/11 as the United States was preparing to invade
Afghanistan and new medical products might be needed for soldiers on the
battlefield without their consent, said two former officials from the
Defense Intelligence Agency.
Yet, there were concerns about the changes even among Bush administration officials. In a September 24, 2001 memo to lawmakers, Bush’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the “administration is
concerned with the provision allowing research to be conducted on human
subjects without their informed consent in order to advance the
development of a medical product necessary to the armed forces.”
The OMB memo said the Bush administration understood that the DoD had a “legitimate need” for “waiver authority for emergency research,” but “the provision as drafted may jeopardize existing protections for human
subjects in research, and must be significantly narrowed.”
However, the broader language moved forward, as did planning for the new war on terror interrogation procedures.
In December 2001, Pentagon general counsel Haynes and other agency officials contacted the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which runs SERE schools for teaching US soldiers to resist interrogation and
torture if captured by an outlaw regime. The officials wanted a list of
interrogation techniques that could be used for detainee “exploitation,”
according to a report released last year by the Senate Armed Services
Committee (PDF).
These techniques, as they were later implemented by the CIA and the Pentagon, were widely discussed as “experimental” in nature.
Back in Congress, the concerns from the OMB about loose terminology were brushed aside and the law was amended to give the DoD greater leeway regarding experimentation on human subjects.
A paragraph to the law, which had not been changed since it was first enacted in 1972, was added authorizing the defense secretary to waive “informed consent” for human subject research and experimentation. It
was included in the 2002 Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress in
December 2001. The Wolfowitz directive implemented the legislative
changes Congress made to 10 USC 980 when it was issued three months
The changes to the “informed consent” section of the law were in direct contradiction to presidential and DoD memoranda issued in the 1990s that prohibited such waivers related to classified research. A
memo signed in 1999 by Secretary of Defense William Cohen called for the
prohibitions on “informed consent” waivers to be added to the Common
Rule regulations covering DoD research, but DoD never implemented it.
Congressional Assistance
As planning for the highly classified Special Access Program began to take shape, most officials in Congress appear to have averted their eyes, with some even lending a hand.
The ex-DIA officials said the Pentagon briefed top lawmakers on the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee in November and December 2001, including the panel’s chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and his
chief of staff Patrick DeLeon, about experimentation and research
involving detainee interrogations that centered on “deception
To get a Special Access Program like this off the ground, the Pentagon needed DeLeon’s help, given his long-standing ties to the American Psychological Association (APA), where he served as president
in 2000, the sources said.
According to former APA official Bryant Welch, DeLeon’s role proved crucial.
“For significant periods of time DeLeon has literally directed APA staff on federal policy matters and has dominated the APA governance on political matters,” Welch wrote.
“For over twenty-five years, relationships between the APA and the
Department of Defense (DOD) have been strongly encouraged and closely
coordinated by DeLeon … When the military needed a mental health
professional to help implement its interrogation procedures, and the
other professions subsequently refused to comply, the military had a
friend in Senator Inouye’s office, one that could reap the political
dividends of seeds sown by DeLeon over many years.”
John Bray, a spokesman for Inuoye, said in late August he would look into questions posed by Truthout about the Wolfowitz directive and the meetings involving DeLeon and Inuoye. But Bray never responded nor did
he return follow-up phone calls and emails. DeLeon did not return
messages left with his assistant.
Legal Word Games
Meanwhile, in January 2002, President Bush was receiving memos from then-Justice Department attorneys Jay Bybee and John Yoo as well as from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Bush’s White House counsel
Alberto Gonzales, advising Bush to deny members of al-Qaeda and the
Taliban prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions.
Also, about a month before the Wolfowitz directive was issued, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) asked Joint Forces Command if they could get a “crash course” on interrogation for the next interrogation
team headed out to Guantánamo, according to the Armed Services
Committee’s report. That request was sent to Brig. Gen. Thomas Moore and
was approved.
Bruce Jessen, the chief psychologist of the SERE program, and Joseph Witsch, a JPRA instructor, led the instructional seminar held in early March 2002.
The seminar included a discussion of al-Qaeda’s presumed methods of resisting interrogation and recommended specific methods interrogators should use to defeat al-Qaeda’s resistance. According to the Armed
Services Committee report, the presentation provided instructions on how
interrogations should be conducted and on how to manage the “long term
exploitation” of detainees.
There was a slide show, focusing on four primary methods of treatment: “isolation and degradation,” “sensory deprivation,” “physiological pressures” and “psychological pressures.”
According to Jessen and Witsch’s instructor’s guide, isolation was the “main building block of the exploitation process,” giving the captor “total control” over the prisoner’s “inputs.” Examples were provided on
how to implement “degradation,” by taking away a prisoner’s personal
dignity. Methods of sensory deprivation were also discussed as part of
the training.
Jessen and Witsch denied that “physical pressures,” which later found their way into the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, were taught at the March meeting.
However, Jessen, along with Christopher Wirts, chief of JPRA’s Operational Support Office, wrote a memo for Southern Command’s Directorate of Operations (J3), entitled “Prisoner Handling
Recommendations,” which urged Guantánamo authorities to take punishment
beyond “base line rules.”
So, by late March 2002, the pieces were in place for a strategy of behavior modification designed to break down the will of the detainees and extract information from them. Still, to make the procedures
“legal,” some reinterpretations of existing laws and regulation were
For instance, attorneys Bybee and Yoo would narrow the definition of “torture” to circumvent laws prohibiting the brutal interrogation of detainees.
“Vulnerable” Individuals
In his directive, Wolfowitz also made subtle, but significant, word changes. While retaining the blanket prohibition against experimenting on prisoners of war, Wolfowitz softened the language for other types of
prisoners, using a version of rules about “vulnerable” classes of
individuals taken from regulations meant for civilian research by the
Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
This research and experimentation examined physiological markers of stress, such as cortisol, and involved psychologists under contract to the CIA and the military who were experts in the field, the ex-DIA
officials said.
One study, called “The War Fighter’s Stress Response,” was conducted between 2002 and 2003 and examined physiological measurements of mock torture subjects drawn from the SERE program and other high-stress
military personnel, such as Special Forces Combat Divers.
Researchers measured cortisol and other hormone levels via salivary swabbing and blood samples, a process that also was reportedly done to war on terror detainees.
Three weeks after the Wolfowitz directive was signed, SERE psychologist Jessen produced a Draft Exploitation Plan for use at Guantánamo. According to the Armed Services Committee’s report, JPRA was
offering its services for “oversight, training, analysis, research,
and [tactics, techniques, and procedures] development” to Joint Forces
Command Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. Robert Wagner. (Emphasis added.)
There were other indications that research was an important component of JPRA services to the DoD and CIA interrogation programs. When three JPRA personnel were sent to a Special Mission Unit associated with Joint
Special Operations Command (JSOC) in August 2003 for what was believed
to be special training in interrogation, one of the three was JPRA’s
manager for research and development.
Three former top military officials interviewed by the Armed Services Committee have described Guantánamo as a “battle lab.”
According to Col. Britt Mallow, the commander of the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF), he was uncomfortable when Guantánamo officials Maj. Gen. Mike Dunleavy and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller used the
term “battle lab,” meaning “that interrogations and other procedures
there were to some degree experimental, and their lessons would benefit
DoD in other places.”
CITF’s deputy commander told the Senate investigators, “there were many risks associated with this concept … and the perception that detainees were used for some ‘experimentation’ of new unproven
techniques had negative connotations.”
In May 2005, a former military officer who attended a SERE training facility sent an email to Middle East scholar Juan Cole stating that “Gitmo must be being used as a ‘laboratory’ for all these psychological techniques by the
[counter-intelligence] guys.”
The Al-Qahtani Experiment
One of the high-value detainees imprisoned at Guantánamo who appears to have been a victim of human experimentation was Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was captured in January 2002.
A sworn statement filed by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, al-Qahtani’s attorney, said Secretary Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in the interrogation of al-Qahtani and spoke “weekly” with Major General
Miller, commander at Guantánamo, about the status of the interrogations
between late 2002 and early 2003.
The treatment of al-Qahtani was cataloged in an 84-page “torture log” (PDF) that was leaked in 2006. The torture log shows that, beginning in November 2002 and continuing well into January 2003, al-Qahtani was
subjected to sleep deprivation, interrogated in 20-hour stretches, poked
with IVs and left to urinate on himself.
Gitanjali S. Gutierrez, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents al-Qahtani, had said in a sworn declaration that her client was subjected to months of torture based on verbal and written authorizations from Rumsfeld.
“At Guantánamo, Mr. al-Qahtani was subjected to a regime of aggressive interrogation techniques, known as the ‘First Special Interrogation Plan,’” Gutierrez said. “These methods included, but were
not limited to, 48 days of severe sleep deprivation and 20-hour
interrogations, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious
humiliation, physical force, prolonged stress positions and prolonged
sensory over-stimulation, and threats with military dogs.”
In addition, the Senate Armed Services Committee report said al-Qahtani’s treatment was viewed as a potential model for other interrogations.
In his book Oath Betrayed, Dr. Steven Miles wrote that the meticulously recorded logs of al-Qahtani’s interrogation and torture focus “on the emotions and
interactions of the prisoner, rather than on the questions that were
asked and the information that was obtained.”
The uncertainty surrounding these experimental techniques resulted in the presence of medical personnel on site, and frequent and consistent medical checks of the detainee. The results of the monitoring, which
likely included vital signs and other stress markers, would also become
data that could be analyzed to understand how the new interrogation
techniques worked.
In January 2004, the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) initiated a DoD-wide review of human subjects protection policies. A Navy slide presentation at DoD Training Day on November 14, 2006, hinted strongly at the serious issues behind the entire review.
The Navy presentation framed the problem in the light of the history of US governmental “non-compliance” with human subjects research protections, including “US Government Mind Control Experiments — LSD,
MK-ULTRA, MK-DELTA (1950-1970s)”; a 90-day national “stand down” in 2003
for all human subject research and development activities “ordered in
response to the death of subjects”; as well as use of “unqualified
The Training Day presentation said the review found the Navy “not in full compliance with Federal policies on human subjects protection.” Furthermore, DDR&E found the Navy had “no single point of
accountability for human subject protections.”
DoD refused to respond to questions regarding the 2004 review. Maj. Gen. Ronald Sega, who at the time was the DDR&E, did not return calls for comment.
Ongoing Research
Meanwhile, the end of the Bush administration has not resulted in a total abandonment of the research regarding interrogation program.
Last February, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who recently resigned, disclosed that the Obama administration’s High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) planned on conducting “scientific research” to determine “if there are better ways to get information from people that are consistent
with our values.”
“It is going to do scientific research on that long-neglected area,” Blair said during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. He did not provide additional details as to what the “scientific research”
As for the Wolfowitz directive, Pentagon spokeswoman Snyder said it did not open the door to human experimentation on war on terror detainees.
“There is no detainee policy, directive or instruction — or exceptions to such — that would permit performing human research testing on DoD detainees,” Snyder said. “Moreover, none of the numerous
investigations into allegations of misconduct by interrogators or the
guard force found any evidence of such activities.”

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