Doctors' CIA roles criticized

WASHINGTON — When the CIA began what it called an "increased pressure phase" with captured terrorist suspect Abu Zubaida in summer 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 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 Bush administration memos released Thursday, but the documents show that a steady stream of psychologists, physicians and other health officials both kept detainees alive and actively participated in designing and monitoring the interrogation program. 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, which declined to comment on the role played by health professionals in the "enhanced interrogation program."

Doctors' CIA roles criticized 04/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 10:44pm]

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