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Context of 'April 21, 2009: Scientists Repudiate Use of Sleep Research in Justice Department’s Torture Memos'

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In light of new disclosures that the Justice Department endorsed torture in 2005 (see October 4, 2007), President Bush says the CIA broke no laws in its interrogations of prisoners, and reiterates his oft-stated assertion that the US “does not torture people.” In a brief appearance at the White House, Bush says, “We stick to US law and our international obligations.” But when the US finds a terrorism suspect: “You bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them—because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in response: “The administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.” Rockefeller is referring to attempts by the White House and its defenders to assert that Congress knew as much about the CIA’s torture policies as did the White House, and its simultaneous refusal to turn over to Congress Justice Department and other documents used in the Bush administration’s assertions of legality. [Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

European scientists whose work was used by the CIA and Justice Department to help justify the legality of torture methods denounce the Bush administration for misusing their scientific findings. Bernd Kundermann, a sleep specialist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Marburg, says, “It is total nonsense to cite our study in this context.” Paris sleep specialist S. Hakki Onen says of his sleep research: “I’m disappointed, upset, consternated, and even hurt at seeing this. To see [the research] used in this manner is upsetting because [the CIA’s] goals run counter to the therapeutic intent of our effort.… In publishing clinical findings like this, you’re aware you lose control of them, because they can be read and even abused by people who may have other objectives in mind.” Studies by Kundermann and Onen were used by the CIA in its determination of sleep deprivation tactics to be used against prisoners. British sleep researcher James Horne calls the use of his work by the CIA to justify torture “nonsense.” A 2004 study by Kundermann, which demonstrated that people deprived of sleep for a night have an increased sensitivity to pain, was cited in two 2005 Justice Department memos (see May 10, 2005 and May 10, 2005) that concluded sleep deprivation up to 180 hours (seven and one-half days) would cause increased pain but not meet the legal standard of “severe physical pain,” even when used in conjunction with other techniques such as physical beatings and waterboarding. Kundermann says his work does not justify the Justice Department’s conclusion. “We were working with healthy volunteers and didn’t deprive them of sleep for more than one day without allowing them to recover,” he says. “Even under these circumstances, certain changes can occur, such as hallucinations, depending on the individual’s condition.” The methods employed by CIA interrogators could have much more severe effects, including induced psychosis. Onen says the CIA sleep deprivation techniques far exceeded “the maximum we set for ethical purposes.” Horne writes that the CIA’s use of his study to conclude that “even very extended sleep deprivation does not cause physical pain” is seriously flawed. “Prolonged stress with sleep deprivation will lead to a physiological exhaustion of the body’s defense mechanisms, physical collapse, and with the potential for various ensuing illnesses,” he notes. “We don’t know at what point this latter phase would be reached with ‘coercive techniques,’ but to claim that 180 hours is safe in these respects is nonsense.” [Time, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bernd Kundermann, James Horne, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, S. Hakki Onen

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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