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Torture in the United States

(abridged - with focus on involuntary human experimentation)

A report prepared by

World Organization Against Torture - USA

Morton Sklar, Director

October 1998


World Organization Against Torture USA
1015 18th Street NW
Suite 400
Washington DC 20036 USA
Voice: 202-861-6494
Fax: 202-659-2724

                    I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

A. Background -- Why This Report Was Prepared

The International Convention Against Torture (CAT) was ratified
by the United States Government in 1994, with the Government's initial
report reviewing compliance with the Convention's provisions due to be
submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture one year
later.  This report is now more than three years overdue.

In its absence, our Coalition, made up of more than 60 contributing
non-governmental organizations dealing with a broad cross section of
issues and concerns related to torture and other forms of cruel and
inhuman treatment or punishment, has decided to release its own evalua-
tion of U.S. compliance under CAT.  Our goals are to:

- encourage the Government to fulfill its responsibilities on a more
  effective basis, both in terms of submitting the required compliance
  report, and eliminating the practices detailed below that violate
  internationally recognized human rights standards related to torture

- promote a better understanding among government officials, the general
  public, and the non-governmental organization community of how inter-
  national human rights standards and enforcement mechanisms can be
  applied to domestic issues and needs.


B.  What Are The Major Areas of Non-Compliance?

Torture, which is identfied by CAT as including all forms of government
sponsored (by affirmative action or by acquiescence) cruel and
inhuman treatment and punishment, or other forms of severe pain and
suffering, both physical and psychological, currently is taking place
in the United States in a number of important areas.

1.  The Death Penalty


8.  Abuse in Treatment of Those Considered Mentally Ill


9.  Involuntary Human Scientific Experimentation

Considerable evidence recently has surfaced that the U.S. government,
in past years, has conducted a number of what have been classified as
"scientific" experiments on human subjects without their knowledge or
consent.  This includes large-scale exposures to radiation emissions,
and purposeful denial of available medical treatment to African-
American syphilis victims, allegedly for medical testing.

Recent media disclosures and admissions by government officials suggest
that the scope of these "experiments" has been far wider than previously
acknowledged.  As was true for the human experimentation conducted by 
the Nazis in prison camps during World War II, the "so-called"
scientific aspects of these tests do not eliminate the cruel and abusive
elements that were involved.

Nor do they justify the severe pain and suffering impost on individual
test victims.

Although the tests that have been publicly acknowledged took place some
years ago, sufficient action has not been taken to compensate victims,
and to assure that similar forms of abusive experimentation would be
prevented in the future, especially in newly emerging areas of tech-
nology and weapons development.

steps should be taken to ensure full disclosure and proper compensation
for past involuntary scientific experimentation.  Secret testing of
technology and weapons on humans, especially without their fully
informed knowledge and consent, should not be permitted, and adequate
methods for assuring that such practices not take place should be



        This section draws heavily on the 1995 submission
        to the Human Rights Committee by the Science and
        Human Rights program of the American Association
        for the Advancement of Science, included in
        "The Status of Human Rights in the United States"


In past years, the U.S. has conducted a number of scientific experi-
ments on human subjects without their consent or knowledge.  
This includes exposure to of at least 9,000 human subjects,
including children and newborns, to radiation testing by the Atomic
Energy Commission, and the Tuskeegee experiments in which African-
American subjects were denied medical treatment for syphilis in order
to document how this disease affected the human body.

Although these cruel and inhuman tests were conducted many years ago,
ther are two aspects that continue to be of concern.  First is the
fact that government kept information about the tests secret for a
number of years, and continues to release data that suggests that
testing of this type has been far more frequent, and with a greater
impact, than initially acknowledged.  Second is that appropriate
action still has not been taken to compensate the victims, and to 
assure that similar activities will not take place in the future.


The prohibition against torture in Article 7 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that "no one shall
be subject, without his free consent, to medical or scientific
experimentation."  This provision is not included in CAT, which
focusses in Article 1 on pain inflicted for punishment or intimidation,
or for any reason based on discrimination.

Howver, it was the overwhelming consensus of our working group that
human scientific experimentation conducted by government without the
knowledgeable consent of victims constitutes, by its very nature, a
type of punishment that fits within the CAT definition as constituting
"severe pain and suffering" as described by CAT.

There is no question that the human experiments conducted by the Nazis
during World War II constituted torture, despite their alleged scien-
tific purposes, because the dangers and inhumanity victims were
subjected to evidenced an essential lack of concern for the well-being
of the subjects that resulted in the unnecessary inflicition of pain
and suffering.

Simliar experiments that constitute punishment under the meaning of the
CAT definition are present whenever human beings are unknowingly
subjected to scientific tests, especially when they involve potential
severe or long-lasting health consequences, or the purposeful denial of
appropriate medical care.  this type of disdain for human subjects can
not be viewed as anything other than the purposeful infliction of
punishment, even if legitimate scientific goals are involved, and
the intent to do harm may not be present.

It is the lack of due care for the severe (though unexpected) conse-
quences that produces the pain and suffering of the type prohibited by
CAT.  This is the reason why the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
makes special mention of human scientific experimentation under its
treatment of torture, and justifies its inclusion among the activities
subject to review under Article 1 of CAT.


The 1995 "Initial Report of the United States" to the United Nations
Human Rights Committee acknowledges that a number of Cold War era 
experiments involving the exposure of humans to radiation were conducted
that would be in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights ("Covenant").  It does not, however, discuss
in any detail:

- the nature of these experiments
- the manner in which they were conducted (particularly pertinent
  is how the issue of consent was treated)
- whether steps have been taken to remedy the results of inappro-
  priate testing through appropriate compensation of victims, and,
- whether any steps have been taken to ensure that such 
  experimentation does not take place in the future

In early 1994, in response to public pressure generated by reports 
appearing in "The Albuquerque Tribune", and a report issued by the U.S.
General Accounting Office confirming that the U.S. government had
sponsored Cold War experiments involving the exposure of human subjects
to large doses of radiation, the Clinton Administration created an
Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments.  The Advisory 
Committee was charged with investigating these experiments and
determining how scientific and ethical standards were observee in these
activities, and was given access to the records of all relevant federal

The Advisory Committee's research acknowledges that government sponsored
experiments involving the exposure of human subjects to potentially
dangerous levels of radiation were far more common than had been
believed.  Between 1948 and 1952, they included at least 13 deliberate
releases of radiated materials into the atmosphere near populated areas
to study fallout patterns and the rate of radioactive decay of atmos-
pherically released particles.  Initial reports also indicate that, 
while high level officials were aware of the dangers and the ethical
considerations involved, there was a consistent lack of effective
regulation governing administration of the tests.

Based on the Advisory Committee's research, six broad categories of
experiments can be identified:

- Experiments aimed at determining the dnager to workers assembling
  nuclear weapons from ingestion, inhalation, or injection of
  irradiated materials.  These experiments involved total body 
  irradiation and the injection of radioactive isotopes into human

- Experiments aimed at determining the effects of exposure to 
  radiation on soldiers serving either as part of the crew of a
  proposed nuclear powered aircraft, or on a nuclear battlefield.
  These experiments involved total body radiation, injection of
  radioactive isotopes, ingestion of irradiated materials by
  human subjects and exposure of subjects to atomic clouds during
  and after bomb detonations.

- Development of nuclear weapons.  These experiments involved
  atmospheric releases of radiation without the knowledge of 
  exposed civilian population.

- Studies on the dispersal, fallout, biological intake and decay
  of radioactive materials following a nuclear explosion.  These
  experiments involved atmospheric releases of radiation, ingestion
  of radioactive and exposure to atomic clouds.

etc. etc. ...[snip]

Similar concerns also are being rasied about involuntary human
experimentation involving new forms of classified research and testing
of high technology military weaponry, including microwave and laser
equipiment.  Groups working on these issues cite, among other evidence
of the existence of these unauthorized testing procedures, a White
House inter-governmental memorandum dated March 27, 1997, establishing
stronger guidelines prohibiting non-consentual testing for classified
research, but suggesting, by implication, that this type of human
research may, in fact, be taking place.  Because of the classified
nature of these activities, it is very difficult to confirm or disprove
that they are taking place.

Given the serious negative impacts on non-consentual human subjects
that classified research of this type is capable of producing, and
given the past history of secret experimentation by the government,
these allegations of continuing improprieties involving secret
government-sponsored human testing should not be dismissed without
more thorough, impartial investigation.

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