In the past week, at least three scientists have come out and objected to their work on sleep deprivation being used by the CIA and Justice Department to justify torture. In one of his 2005 memos, the OLC’s Steven Bradbury said that sleep deprivation causes “at most only relatively moderate decreases in pain tolerance.” But one of the scholars, Dr. Bernd Kundermann from the University of Marburg, pointed out that that he was “working with healthy volunteers and didn’t deprive them of sleep for more than one day without allowing them to recover.” Similarly, from Dr. S. Hakki Onen from the Hôpital Gériatrique A. Charial:
“[The study subjects] were distracted from sleeplessness by playing different games, or watching soccer matches. They could eat, drink, read, and move about as they wished. [From] 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,” Onen said. “In other words, they discuss starting the sleep deprivation process at nearly double the maximum we set for ethical reasons.”
Onen compared the CIA’s use of his study results to the overdosing of medication. “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,” he said.
As Onen notes, the Justice Department determined that “the maximum allowable period of sleep deprivation allowed under the CIA interrogation program was 264 hours, though no detainee was actually deprived of sleep for more than 180 hours, or seven and a half days.”