Did “Enhanced Interrogation” Break the CIA’s Own Rules on “Human Experimentation”?


June 15, 2015

The Central Intelligence Agency’s use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees in the aftermath of 9/11 may have violated its own guidelines around medical ethics and “human experimentation,” according to a new report in the Guardian.

Previously classified documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and published by the Guardian on Monday say the agency “shall not sponsor, contract for, or conduct research on human subjects,” except in accordance with guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The documents also reveal that the CIA’s director has the power to “approve, modify, or disapprove all proposals pertaining to human subject research.” As the Guardian report notes: 

The leeway provides the director, who has never in the agency’s history been a medical doctor, with significant influence over limitations the U.S. government sets to preserve safe, humane and ethical procedures on people.

CIA director George Tenet approved abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, designed by CIA contractor psychologists. He further instructed the agency’s health personnel to oversee the brutal interrogations – the beginning of years of controversy, still ongoing, about U.S. torture as a violation of medical ethics.

In 2013, a Columbia University task force found that medical professionals working for the CIA “played a critical role in reviewing and approving forms of torture, including waterboarding, as well as in advising the Department of Justice that ‘enhanced interrogation’ methods, such as extended sleep deprivation and waterboarding that are recognized as forms of torture, were medically acceptable.”

A report published in April also alleged that the American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the Bush administration, the CIA and the Department of Defense to shore up the legal and ethical justification for the program, according to The New York Times.

Since they were revealed, the CIA’s methods have been widely criticized and labeled as torture, with even President Barack Obama admitting in August, “We tortured some folks.” In December, a scathing review by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that the CIA’s interrogation program was brutal, mismanaged and also did not produce intelligence that couldn’t have been obtained otherwise.

Although a 2009 executive order signed by Obama ended the use of torture by the government, lawmakers including Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) want to enshrine the ban in law. Last week, they sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would formally outlaw the use of torture by any government agency.

Related Film: Secrets, Politics and Torture:

FRONTLINE investigates the secret history of the CIA’s controversial “enhanced interrogation” methods.

Priyanka Boghani

Priyanka Boghani, Digital Reporter & Producer, FRONTLINE



In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

FRONTLINE Wins Peabody Award for 'China Undercover'
The documentary investigated what has been described as the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic group since the Holocaust.
June 21, 2021
Number of Gunshot Victims in Minneapolis is Up 90% From Last Year; Solutions Elusive
As Minneapolis struggles to develop a new approach to public safety amid intense scrutiny of its police department, it faces a depressingly familiar problem: how to curb surging gun violence as the weather warms.
June 19, 2021
The Doctor is Out: Texas Community Worries About Future Without Local Healthcare
The problem the residents of Bowie, TX, face is one that has become more prevalent around the U.S. as at least 136 rural hospitals have closed in the last decade.
June 18, 2021
America’s Legacy of Racist Killings: Key Takeaways from ‘Un(re)solved’
Civil rights era cold case killings. A federal effort to right past wrongs. What a FRONTLINE investigation reveals about the lives lost and the search for justice.
June 17, 2021