To some degree, the documents suggest, the two psychologists resisted pressure within the C.I.A. for rigorous assessment of the programâs efficacy. They argued that interrogation strategies canât be standardized and therefore canât be compared, like medical treatments, in randomized, prospective fashion.
But backers of more systematic assessment seem to have won out. In an undated document, the C.I.A.âs chief of medical services chided Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen for treating the torture program as an âart formâ that âcould not be objectively analyzed,â then pressed the âneed to look more objectively for the least intrusive way to gain cooperation.â
Is this the stuff of Josef Mengele, the doctor who conducted gruesome experiments on captives at Auschwitz? Or would it be more correct to conclude that the C.I.A. could lawfully collect and review evidence bearing on the interrogation programâs efficacy and safety?
Transnational law backs the agency. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights bans âmedical or scientific experimentationâ without consent but doesnât restrict human-subjects research more generally. The Geneva Conventions say something similar. No one, though, is claiming that C.I.A. review efforts involved experimental and control groups and so were âexperimentationâ as science defines it.
But should we treat the program as an âexperimentâ in a more colloquial sense, as Physicians for Human Rights and the A.C.L.U. seem to do? Here, the agency has common sense on its side. If assessing outcomes of public programs makes them âexperiments,â then all government action that affects people (welfare programs, Medicaid, etc.) is human experimentation, triggering informed-consent and various other legal requirements.
This logic surely sweeps too far. Our real concern about what Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen did or didnât do isnât human…