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Syphilis Experiments and the State-Secrets Doctrine

US officials phoned Alvaro Colom to apologise "for all those affected" in the US-led experiment decades ago [AFP]by Jacob G. Hornberger

If I had suggested that the U.S. government had probably done syphilis experimentation on people other than the Tuskegee experiments on unsuspecting American black men, American statists would undoubtedly respond, “Conspiracy theory! Conspiracy theory! It is inconceivable that our government would do such a thing.”

What’s interesting about statists, however, is that when it turns out that government officials really did conspire to do horrific things to people, the statists are never surprised.

Sure enough, it turns out that federal officials did conspire to commit syphilis experiments, not just at Tuskegee but also on unsuspecting prisoners in Guatemalan jails.

The experiments took place in 1948 and just came to light, thanks to a researcher who discovered the experiments in notes kept by one of the federal officials involved in the Tuskegee experiment. The Guatemalan experiments have been kept secret until now — some 64 years later, which confirms that federal officials can be very adept at keeping nefarious federal conspiracies secret.

What U.S. officials did was bring prostitutes that they knew were infected by syphilis into Guatemalan jails to infect prisoners, so that U.S. officials would be able to study the effect that antibiotics had on the syphilis.

Some of the prisoners, however, failed to contract syphilis from the prostitutes. No problem. U.S. officials simply used other ways to infect the men, methods that are too gruesome to describe here.

Keep in mind that these medical experiments took place in 1948, about the time that U.S. officials were prosecuting Nazi officials for subjecting human beings to gruesome medical experimentation.

Keep in mind also that this was the period of time when the U.S. welfare state, which had been adopted in the Franklin Roosevelt administration, was being justified under the rubric of loving the poor, needy, and disadvantaged.

Statists would argue that that’s a long time ago and that the malefactors are now dead. Time to move on, they always say.

Of course, if any of the descendants of those Guatemalan men were to retaliate with a terrorist attack against the United States, federal officials would immediately exclaim, “They just hate us for our freedom and values! The fact that we intentionally infected their father or grandfather with syphilis as an experiment has nothing to do with it.”

Meanwhile, today’s statists argue in favor of the “state-secrets doctrine,” claiming that federal officials should have the power to keep all their nefarious deeds in the so-called war on terrorism secret.

Never mind that 64 years from now, when Americans living at that time discover the horrific and gruesome things that CIA and U.S. military officials were doing in the “war on terrorism,” statists at that time will say the same thing: that that’s ancient history and that it’s time to move on.

The state-secrets doctrine needs to be ditched, completely. Nowhere does it appear in the Constitution. Instead, it was created as a judicial doctrine by the Supreme Court several decades ago, in response to a request by federal officials in a civil suit that reached the Court. The nasty little irony is that the case in which the doctrine was created involved, as it was discovered decades later, lies, wrongdoing, and cover-ups by federal officials. In other words, federal officials defrauded the Supreme Court into adopting the state-secrets doctrine.

We can’t do anything for those Guatemalan men and we can’t do anything to the federal officials who conducted those horrific experiments. But we can do our best to ensure that federal officials cease and desist from committing horrific acts against both foreigners and Americans, including torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees.

The best way to do that — indeed, the best way to restore a sense of honor and decency to our nation, not to mention peace, prosperity, security, and harmony — is to dismantle the CIA’s and Pentagon’s overseas military empire, bring all the troops home and discharge them, dismantle the enormous standing army and military-industrial complex, abolish the CIA, and open up all the files on all the nefarious things that the CIA and the military have done to people, from 1948 all the way through the present.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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