A Third Doctor Objects To CIA Misuse of Science

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I have updated the story I posted earlier today with yet another scientist, this one in France, objecting to the way the CIA and the Justice Department used his work to justify prolonged sleep deprivation on detainees.

Dr. S. Hakki Onen, sleep specialist and geriatrician with the Hôpital Gériatrique A. Charial, a part of the Hospices Civils de Lyon in Lyon, France, is the author of a paper cited in footnotes in the two May 10, 2005 memos that President Obama declassified last week. The two other named scientists, James Horne and Bernd Kundermann have also objected to the use their material to argue that CIA procedures were did not rise to the level of torture.

Here is the complete statement of Onen, as given to TIME reporter Bruce Crumley in Paris. Like Kundermann, Onen only discovered his citation in the CIA memos when he was contacted by TIME.

I’m disappointed, upset, consternated, and even hurt at seeing this. This research was undertaken to learn about the relationship between pain and sleep deprivation, and inform the scientific community how we can improve and develop new strategies for treating and managing the pain of our patients. To see it used in this manner is upsetting, because its 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. . . . (More after the jump.)


Our medical study set careful guidelines and ethical limits, and used volunteers who were in good health. Those paid volunteers also issued from the medical field, understood what the study entailed, and could leave the experiment at any time if they desired. The maximum limit of total sleep deprivation was set at 40 hours, during which time the volunteers were accompanied in a comfortable and pleasant environment, and given healthy, gourmet food. Meanwhile, they were distracted from sleeplessness by playing different games, or watching soccer matches. They could eat, drink, read, and move about as they wished. The American documents we learn that sleep deprivation spanned from 70 to 120 hours—and set maximum limits of 180 hours for the hardest resisters, which is over a full week without sleep! In other words, they discuss starting the sleep deprivation process at nearly double the maximum we set for ethical reasons. Needless to say, the conditions within which that sleep deprivation took place in seems to have little in common with the open, controlled, and comfortable settings of our study.

The American documents also cite our study by saying 40 hours of sleep deprivation diminished pain tolerance thresholds by 8% to 9%, independent of all discomfort caused by physical interrogation methods. What it doesn’t note is our study also found patients deprived of sleep to be more sensitive to pain, and in a general state of discomfort. Meanwhile, it also ignores our finding that once patients were allowed a period of ‘rebound sleep’, they tended to be more resistant to pain. In that manner,  a few years later we used those findings in new medical experiments–for example, with sleep apnea syndrome in elderly patients, which is a chronic sleep deprivation model. When we treated these patients and restored their sleep, we also increased their pain thresholds. That therapeutic objective of our study is therefore opposite to its application as described in the reports.

It’s indeed a question of objective. The American documents talk about using sleep deprivation to opposite ends. In a manner, it’s like giving a drug to a patient: if you administer it in small doses for therapeutic reasons, it helps them. If you give it in huge volumes, it becomes toxic—and can even kill them.

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