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Doctors enabled harsh interrogations

Psychologists and other health professionals kept detainees alive and helped design questioning methods.

April 18, 2009|Washington Post

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 extraordinary 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.

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 the long-concealed Bush administration memos released Thursday, but the documents show a steady stream of psychologists, physicians and other health officials who both kept detainees alive and actively participated in designing the interrogation program and monitoring its implementation.

Their presence also enabled the government to argue that the interrogations did not include torture.

The CIA declined to comment Friday on the role played by health professionals in the agency's self-described "enhanced interrogation program," which operated from 2002 to 2006 in various secret prisons overseas.

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