How Animal Experiments Paved the Way for the CIA’s Torture Program

Fact: The CIA’s torture program was directly inspired by animal experiments.

In the 1960s, dogs were subjected to random electric shocks from which they could not escape. Eventually the dogs gave up trying to avoid the painful shocks, not even escaping when a path to escape was finally presented to them.

From the New York Times:

The dogs wouldn’t jump. All they had to do to avoid electric shocks was leap over a small barrier, but there they sat in boxes in a lab… passive and whining.

As we now know, these “learned helplessness” experiments on dogs and other animals became the foundation for brutal CIA torture techniques, such as waterboarding.

What concerns me most as a medical doctor is the fact that two psychologists hired by the CIA, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, directed these human torture experiments. The psychologists were curious about whether the theories of animal “learned helplessness” might work on humans.

Many psychologists and psychiatrists are justifiably horrified at the central role members of their own profession have played in these torture experiments. Unfortunately, our biomedical profession has a long history of experimentation on humans:

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