New Evidence on CIA Medical Torture: Injection “to the Bone” on Former Black Site Prisoner Majid Khan

Quite recently, U.S. authorities allowed the declassification of notes from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) attorney Wells Dixon that described what his client, high-value detainee Majid Khan, told him about his torture at the hands of the CIA. Khan, a Pakistan citizen, is currently at Guantanamo, and awaits trial by military commission.

Dixon has described the hideous torture of his client, which comes on the heels of revelations in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence executive summary of their report on the CIA’s torture program.

According to a June 2 Reuters report, Dixon described from interview notes with Khan, CIA use of solitary confinement; sexual abuse, including frequent touching of “private parts”; threats of physical harm; being hung naked from a pole for days; so-called “rectal feeding” (a form of anal rape); denial of food; water immersion and waterboarding, among other atrocities.

According to a CCR press release on Khan’s torture, CIA doctors onsite were among the “worst torturers.” Both Reuters and CCR have noted how doctors would check Khan’s condition, ignore his appeals for help, and send him back into extreme forms of torture.

In a June 10 phone interview with Wells Dixon, Khan’s attorney revealed there was more unreported material left out of the Reuters and CCR reports. In particular, Dixon revealed that Khan told him he was “also injected with a needle to the bone, and screamed in pain, then lost consciousness.”

According to my research, an injection that just happens to hit a bone does not usually cause great pain. But an injection that enters the bone can. The latter is called an intraosseous or IO injection, and is used to quickly infuse drugs, particularly in instances where a person’s life is at stake. It is usual medical procedure to insert lidocaine, a pain reliever, with or prior to injection because of the great pain associated with IO injections. Certain kinds of drugs can also cause great pain upon injection.

Did the CIA have medical need to make an IO injection, and withhold lidocaine or other pain reliever? Did CIA use the IO injection specifically to cause pain? Was a drug injected into Khan that specifically, or as side effect, caused great pain, in order to further torture him?

We don’t know exactly what the CIA did with this, or any other injection, but the evidence of such forms of medical torture cannot be denied, despite recent attempts by the CIA to minimize allegations of such medical torture, such as the use of drugs in interrogation. In fact, a recent FOIA release from CIA obtained by Jason Leopold at VICE News showed that the CIA used blood thinners to prolong certain forms of torture.

It has not been easy to obtain this information. As Dixon noted in a June 22 op-ed at Al Jazeera, “The CIA has long tried to bury evidence of its crimes. When we filed a legal case challenging Majid’s detention after his arrival at Guantanamo, the government prevented us from meeting with him for a year so that we would not learn about his torture.”

UN Special Rapporteurs’ “Letter of Allegation” to U.S. on Medical Torture and Experimentation

A new article by Adam Goldman at the Washington Post revealed that hundreds of photos from the CIA black sites exist. The fact they may be evidence at any future military commissions trial is currently being determined, as military prosecutors review the photos, which are said to include pictures of naked detainees, CIA personnel, and “photographs of confinement boxes where detainees such as Abu Zubaydah… were forced into for hours.”

But it seems highly unlikely the public will see these photos, and we will have to rely on detainee testimony, and other various attempts by journalists, domestic and international bodies and organizations to pry out the information from the U.S. government. Along those lines, CCR has called for the full Senate CIA torture report and the Panetta Review to be released. A letter initiated by ACLU and signed by approximately 100 national and international rights groups on the need to ensure accountability for the U.S. CIA Torture Program was delivered to the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council.

In another attempt to gain more information and some degree of accountability on CIA torture, last January 15 two UN Special Rapporteurs wrote a letter to U.S. officials. In the wake of the revelations in the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence executive summary of their report on the CIA’s torture program, the rapporteurs, Dainius Puras (Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health) and Juan E. Méndez (Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) asked the U.S. to respond to charges that doctors and other medical personnel were involved in torture and experimentation on detainees held by the CIA.

The letter was made public in relation to a periodic report submitted to the Human Rights Council earlier this year. (See this webpage, and then page 40 at document linked at A/HRC/29/50, “Communications report of Special Procedures.”)

The UN officials also expressed “concern at the reported lack of investigation into these allegations.”

Puras and Méndez  asked U.S. officials to respond to these charges and “explain how the role of health professionals in the CIA interrogation program is compatible with international human rights standards, including those ratified by the United States of America.”

CIA health professionals played a central role in the CIA interrogation programme to an extent not understood or seen before. These health professionals designed, directed and profited from the CIA interrogation program; intentionally inflicted harm on detainees; enabled the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) lawyers to treat the interrogation practices as safe, legal and effective; engaged in potential human subjects research to provide legal cover for torture; monitored detainee torture and calibrated levels of pain; evaluated and treated detainees for purposes of torture; conditioned medical care on cooperation with interrogators; and failed to document physical and/or psychological evidence of torture.

The role and conduct of these health professionals, which included psychologists, psychiatrists, and physicians assistants, would not only imply a gross violation of medical and professional ethics but also violations of domestic and international law given the seriousness of the crime of torture, which is subject to universal jurisdiction.

Puras and Méndez also asked the U.S. to “provide details, and where available the results, of any investigation, medical examination, judicial or other inquiries carried out in relation to this case. If no inquiries have taken place, or if they have been inconclusive, please explain why.”

The Special Rapporteurs gave the U.S. 60 days to reply.

State Department Kicks the Can on UN Charges

Last week I asked the State Department about the UN letter and whether the U.S. had replied. On June 24, a State Department official told me, “Our exchanges with mandate holders, such as the Special Rapporteurs, are private correspondence. We expect the mandate holders to treat these exchanges as such, and we do the same on our part.”

The State Department didn’t mention — and likely does not want people to know — that the communications are actually posted online a year after the initial communications take place. See this example of an October 2013 statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture on the situation of detainees held at Guantanamo, and its link at bottom to the actual communication, or “letter of allegation” to the U.S., originally sent to U.S. authorities on November 2012.

Or maybe the State Department doesn’t want the public to know that many communications from the U.S. to these “letters of allegation” and “urgent appeals” from UN human rights officials go unanswered. Indeed, in the past 4 years, according to one U.N. document, 95 such communications were sent by UN officials to the United States, but the U.S. only replied to 56 of them. (Hat-tip to Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, for this stat.)

Perhaps nothing portrays the weakness at present of international human rights mechanisms as the degree to which UN member states ignore these “special procedures” or communications from UN officials on human rights matters. Indeed, this is a large-scale problem. In a 2005 report summarizing statistics on these “letters of allegation” and “urgent letters” from different UN Special Rapporteurs, the overall government response rate from 137 member countries was only 46%. (The U.S. rate described above is 59%. Examples of recent non-responses by the U.S. to urgent appeals and letters of allegation from UN officials can be examined here.)

Feinstein Hiding Information on CIA Medical Experimentation

It’s not only State Department officials who are reticent to engage dialogue on torture. The Senate Select Committee has determinedly stated they will not release their full report on CIA torture. As explained below, medical experimentation by the CIA is presumably included in the classified portions. Over 90% of the report remains classified.

I remembered that back in 2010, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, then chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told me that in response to a revelatory report by Physicians for Human Rights on the question of CIA experimentation on detainees she would issue further comment on the matters discussed in the PHR report after the SSCI’s report was done.

“The findings of the new report from Physicians for Human Rights will be considered in our review,” Feinstein said, “and I will have further comment on this when the report is completed.”

A few days ago, Feinstein’s press secretary Tom Mentzer replied to my query about Feinstein’s 2010 promise, “The study’s executive summary includes details about CIA medical and psychological personnel involved in the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Any additional information included in the full report is classified. The committee did closely examine the Physicians for Human Rights report, and the senator commented on the more recent APA report here.”

Mentzer’s link is to an April 30, 2015 statement by Sen. Feinstein in relation to allegations of links between the American Psychological Association and the CIA torture program.

Feinstein’s statement said she was “troubled” by the allegations. “I understand an independent review has been commissioned by the APA and look forward to reviewing its conclusions,” she wrote. “This is a stark reminder that torture can corrode every institution it touches, including medical and psychological professions.”

I wrote back to Mentzer to ask whether Sen. Feinstein was aware of links I’ve made between Chicago attorney David H. Hoffman leading the supposed “independent review… commissioned by the APA” and CIA figures George Tenet and Kenneth J. Levitt, and Rand Corporation figure Newton Minow. Tenet was CIA director when the “enhanced interrogation” and “extraordinary rendition” programs were initiated.

Mentzer did not respond to my query. (An Illinois psychologist has recently written calling for the resignation of Hoffman for conflict of interest in the APA matter.)

Feinstein’s reply to my recent query, to the point that “any additional information in the full report” on CIA experimentation on detainees is “classified,” constitutes a cover-up of possible grave war crimes. At the very least, PHR should demand that Feinstein release all materials in the Committee’s possession that bear on medical torture and human experimentation by the CIA.

As I told Mentzer in my request to Sen. Feinstein, “the issue of experimentation arises in the Executive Summary in the context of an interchange between OMS personnel and the CIA Inspector General on the feasibility of doing research on the ‘effectiveness’ of the CIA techniques. The PHR report, however, was concerned with specific data requested and transmitted regarding the operations of the techniques themselves, including measuring oxygen levels in waterboarding victims, and adjusting temperatures in detention settings for maximum discomfort.”

It is likely that CIA experimentation went well beyond this, including new ways to measure physiological correlates of supposed deception, as well as physiological markers of being overwhelmed by the various torture techniques applied.

If, as Mentzer/Feinstein now maintain, the SSCI did take up PHR’s charges of medical experimentation, the SSCI is not revealing what they found, and has no recommendations about what to do about it.

Sadly, the authors of the 2010 PHR report on CIA experimentation tried to steer public outrage into a complaint made to the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But OHSP referred the complaints back to the CIA, as such is their policy.

The authors of the PHR report knew this was OHSP policy to begin with, but led their supporters down the dead end of OHSP “protections.” In personal correspondence, one of the report authors told me they knew the appeal to OHSP was a “long shot,” but that “PHR lawyers went through law journals and found evidence that OHRP could be interpreted as having jurisdiction, though the situation was ambiguous.” (Because this was personal correspondence, I am not using the person’s name.)

Another example of the kinds of information being kept from the public was revealed recently by Jason Leopold at VICE News, who released a letter from former Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who was himself a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to the CIA complaining about their refusal to show him “four written passages — located in an unknown document that may still be classified — related to the agency’s destruction of interrogation videotapes.”

Did this information ever surface in the classified SSCI report? We don’t know. Just as we don’t know what the U.S. will say to UN Special Rapporteurs about charges of medical torture and illegal experimentation, or if they even bother to respond. (Actually, we will know that, but not for another six months or so.)

For now, all we have — and it is hideous enough — are the cries from the torture chamber itself, as witnessed and reported by the detainees’ attorneys. Will such cries be loud enough to stir real action and change?

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Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye

Jeffrey Kaye is a retired psychologist who has worked professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus, previously wrote regularly for Firedoglake’s The Dissenter, as well as at The Guardian, Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record. He is the author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo, a new book examining declassified files on treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo detention camp.