Monday, 7 June 2010

Time for Another Nuremberg Trial?

Today, Washington based, Nobel Peace Prize winning, non-profit, non-sectarian organisation Physicians for Human Rights released the latest in a series of white papers and reports documenting and evidencing the advanced, elaborate, large-scale use of torture by the US intelligence and military during the 21st century. The latest report, Experiments in Torture, describes "evidence indicating that CIA medical personnel allegedly engaged in the crime of illegal experimentation after 9/11, in addition to the previously disclosed crime of torture. In their attempt to justify the war crime of torture, the CIA appears to have committed another alleged war crime—illegal experimentation on prisoners". As PHR states in its press release, the allegations are not to be taken lightly even discounting their massive moral weight. The activities described clearly violate the Nuremberg Code – the most basic of formal legal documents underlying research ethical standards applied and accepted throughout the world since at least 40 years.

The Nuremberg Code equals the principles applied by the judges of the part of the Nuremberg Trials where the infamous "Nazi-Doctors", were convicted for crimes against humanity. The incomparable weight and standing of the code as a basis for world-wide research ethical regulation means that even if it has not been literally incorporated into national legislation, its principles are to be found in many parts of the legal system of most countries – also the USA. Thus, even if the US is not a member of the International Criminal Court (thus shielding its citizens against prosecution for crimes against humanity), as PHR notes in its press release, the report opens the door for legal action within the US against medical staff participating in the described activities. Especially so, since an act enabling US federal prosecutors to move on human rights crimes committed by US citizens within the US legal system is well under way, according to the organisation Human Rights First.

Post script: when having finished this piece, I found this article in The New York Times reporting and commenting on the PHR report. The news has also been reported in Swedish media, here and here.