U.S. Government Scientists Spent 1940s Infecting Guatemala with STDs

who doesn't love a little siphilis in the afternoon, hmmmm?Fun with science: a U.S. presidential panel has discovered six decades too late that from 1946-1948, U.S. Public Health Service scientists were trolling the insane asylums, prisons and hospitals of Guatemala looking for brown people to inject with syphilis and gonorrhea, “just to see what would happen.” The report notes that “new information indicates that researchers were unusually unethical, even when placed into the historical context of a different era.” Thanks, presidential panel! U.S. officials now have a copy-paste template for the 2081 report uncovering the actual extent of the hellacious torture methods the CIA was busy trying out “just to see what would happen” on its detainees in various other brown people countries across the world at the beginning of this century. 

83 people died out of the roughly 1300 who were infected, out of whom only 700 received any treatment. And, of course, “the research came up with no useful medical information.”

From the AP:

For example, seven women with epilepsy, who were housed at Guatemala’s Asilo de Alienados (Home for the Insane), were injected with syphilis below the back of the skull, a risky procedure. The researchers thought the new infection might somehow help cure epilepsy. The women each got bacterial meningitis, probably as a result of the unsterile injections, but were treated.

Perhaps the most disturbing details involved a female syphilis patient with an undisclosed terminal illness. The researchers, curious to see the impact of an additional infection, infected her with gonorrhea in her eyes and elsewhere. Six months later she died.

Dr Amy Gutmann, head of the commission, described the case as “chillingly egregious”.

Try infecting and torturing some children next time, America. This doesn’t sound like it went far enough. [AP]

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  1. Barb

    They could have just gotten a one way plane ticket for Bristol Palin to go there and saved a fortune.

  2. weejee

    So ol' Doc Mengele ended up working for the US Pub Health Service in Guatemala after the War and not with the boyz in Brazil. Who knew?

    1. yyyaz

      Well, they may have been so-called "Nazi" scientists, but they were OUR "Nazi" scientists, sheesh. Besides, we had to keep them busy when they weren't inventing newer and better death machines. Idle hands being the debbil's tools and all that.

  3. Serolf_Divad


    Well, somebody had to carry on with horrendous, unethical experiments on captive untermesnchen after Dr. Joseph Mengele was no longer available. Why not us?

    1. comrad_darkness

      It's like carrying on the torture in Iraq that was one of the excuses for the war. We're damn good at this carrying on thing.

  4. SorosBot

    Aw man, and here I thought the US government was only giving the syphilis to American black men back then; turns out they were sharing it with the Guatemalans too.

    1. Doktor Zoom

      That's a completely unfair comparison! The Tuskeegee Experiment doctors merely let people who were already infected die horribly without treatment or even being told they had syphilis. They never actually injected anyone with syphilis–why, that would have been unethical.

      1. Biel_ze_Bubba

        And he went on to a nice, well-paid, respectable career in the good old USA.
        Good times, and ol' Doc Cutler never once recognized me.

  5. Mumbletypeg

    Usually I try to keep a pact w/ myself to avoid becoming guilty of the same vile-and-bile-brained crapitudes as observed within a debased, soulless segment of society.

    However, I'll state without qualm there is at least one titanium spine I can think of that might benefit from some experimental innoculations against stoopid.

  6. arihaya

    and this experiment were for naught, as STDs are still rampaging the states …

    see: Wasilla, Alaska

    1. prommie

      It was a doctor Cutler, who went on to be Dean of the University of Pittsburgh graduate school of public health. He died in 2003.

          1. MichelesPantalones

            Jesus, Biely, they infected CHILDREN. Nine years old.

            I hope you're giving them your very best attention.

    1. Mahousu

      They're prepared to accommodate you: The doctors used prostitutes with the disease to pass it to the prisoners (since sexual visits were allowed by law in Guatemalan prisons) and then did direct inoculations made from syphilis bacteria poured onto the men's penises or on forearms and faces that were slightly abraded when the 'normal exposure' produced little disease, or in a few cases through spinal punctures.

      So if you're prompt about picking up the syphilis, you're fine. It's only if you're a slowpoke that they resort to sterner measures.

  7. Sue4466

    "The researchers, curious to see the impact of an additional infection, infected her with gonorrhea in her eyes and elsewhere. Six months later she died. Dr Amy Gutmann, head of the commission, described the case as 'chillingly egregious.'"

    Really? cause I'd call it first degree murder. But WTF do I know.

    1. MichelesPantalones

      It's worse than murder. Murder can be committed in the heat of passion. Murder can result from losing your shit because you're so crazy in your head. This is a crime against humanity, multiple crimes against humanity. It is so disgusting to even read about this. I wish I could take a blowtorch to my skin to burn away the disgust I feel.

      1. Sue4466

        Well, technically first degree murder wouldn't apply to heat of passion type killings (usually voluntary manslaughter). First degree murder is premeditated, you wanted to kill this person and you did.

        I agree about it being a crime against humanity. I think first degree murder is as well.

        1. MichelesPantalones

          True. This is what happens when you get overly excited and carried away and neglect to be precise in your definition. I should have stuck to the legal definition, rather than the vague and general concepts that pass in the modern parlance.

          Although I've never considered the issue of whether first-degree murder could, or should, or is, classified as a crime against humanity. Perhaps when I'm feeling a little less crushed by this kind of news story, I shall contemplate the issue.

  8. tcaalaw

    You know who else used morally challenegd scientists and doctors to abuse people in experiments of dubious scientific value?

      1. One_who_wanders

        In a former job someone from the Tobacco Institute called me up to accuse me of poorly performed research. I laughed and hung up the phone.

  9. freakishlywrong

    What the fuck is wrong with this country? I mean, look at the Republican nominees. And we intentionally infected brown people with syphilis. And seriously, look at those fucking nominees. I hate us.

  10. slithytoves

    Unfortunately, that template has existed a long time. The historical record of medical experimentation in this country is richly horrific.

  11. zhubajie

    The US Army agreed not to prosecute the Imperial Japanese Army's Unit 731, the horrid human experiment unit, at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, in exchange for all their data. I don't know if Unit 731 did any VD experiments, but they did a lot of poison gas experiments, experiments infecting villages with Black Plague, exposing people to radioactive materials, etc. I've been to their headquarters, outside Harbin. The museum there is funded by the present day Japanese government, so it's not just Commie propaganda.

    1. MichelesPantalones….

      It's not just that they "agreed not to prosecute." They helped smuggle Shiro Ishii out of China (well, Harbin) and into Japan, and repeatedly lied about the whereabouts of many of the other scientists involved, despite the USSR repeatedly calling for production of these criminals at the trials they held. The war crimes trials in the USSR resulted in the imprisonment of those scientists they captured. The scientists were released after serving about 2/3 of their sentences, and were repatriated to Japan.

      1. BerkeleyBear

        Of course, the Soviets probably made them work the entire time on the same ideas/processes (Solzhynitzin covered this phenomenon, at least for Soviet citizen/prisoners, in "The First Circle" – a Dante reference).

        1. MichelesPantalones

          I regret to say that I have never read Solzhynitzin. My reading list is doubling, and I've barely been here for a few months.

          Anything else you think I should read?

          I don't know if the Soviet Union had their captive scientists work on the same or similar projects, but I DO know that Unit 731 and the Japanese military had devised plans to attack the Soviet Union as early as the 1930s, and possibly earlier, based on the resentments left over from the conflict of 1904. They did attempt to introduce plague into the Soviet Union, unsuccessfully, IIRC, although yersinia pestis continues to thrive in those parts.

          1. zhubajie

            There were several weeks of border skirmishes at Nomonhon in the '30s between the Red Army and the Kwantung Army. The Japanese did quite poorly!

            Chinese villages were definitely infected with Plague by the Japanese army, as well as subjected to poison gas, etc. Poison gas bombs are still being unearthed.

          2. MichelesPantalones

            Still? Horrors!

            Agnes Smedley was my very first source for information on the two-edged struggle for freedom in China. But I have a stack of contemporary reading on China that I will get to as soon as I finish the stack on VietNam.

            How long did you say you had lived there?

          3. MichelesPantalones

            No need to ask if you're liking it, I suppose. Do you think you will ever return here?

          4. zhubajie

            I once took part in a dig in Israel, where we were told to be real careful walking around, because there had been a big battle there in 1917 (UK vs. Turks) and that there was a lot of unexploded ordinance laying around. The French army has a special unit of "demineurs" that does nothing but defuse shells, etc., re-discovered along the former Western Front.

          5. MichelesPantalones

            I take it, then, that archaeology is one of your interests?

            Will we ever rid ourselves of the horrors of war, do you think?

      2. zhubajie

        Well, I always thought the idea of the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trials was pretty ironic.

        There were lots of shenanigans in connection with the Tokyo War Crimes Trials and they are not generally accepted as legit in modern Japan, or so I've read. Yuma Totani, author of “The Tokyo War Crimes Trials: The Pursuit of Justice in the Wake of World War II”Harvard University Press, 2008, gave an interesting podcast interview, available at

  12. lefty74

    Isn't that how Hernan Cortes hurt the Aztecs in 1519?
    Didn't the Dept of Indian Affairs move filthy blankets infected with smallpox from reservation to reservation in the mid to late 1800's?
    I'm sure we as a nation will not lose too much sleep over this one.
    Its not like Hiroshima, or Dresden, but it is who and what we are. Uh Sorry!

    1. prommie

      They say it was the other way around, that the Spanish brought a particularly virulent form of syphillis to Europe from America.

      1. MichelesPantalones

        Depends on who "they" are. I'm trying to remember what I've read on the subject. I wish my brain weren't so leaky. I think I remember reading that syphilis spread from sheep to humans. And that it originated in the old world. I believe there is a tropical disease known as "yaws," that some scientists speculate might have given rise to syphilis. Do you have any links for this information?

        1. zhubajie

          Some diseases leave scars on the bones, but most don't, and the soft tissues are rarely preserved. Also, most people don't like archaeologists messing around with their dead relatives, so studying such things is hard.

          1. MichelesPantalones

            It turns out that yaws is, as I thought, related to syphilis. Both diseases deform the bones, although different areas of bone, I understand. It would appear that yaws was seen in bones discovered in thenorthern parts of the North American continent, while further in the south, and in South America, syphilis prevailed. You might be interested in this article, since it examines the question of the origins of syphilis from a paleopathological point of view.

    2. zhubajie

      Cortes wanted living subjects, but the Massachusetts Puritans did distribute blankets infected with smallpox. So did General Wolfe after the conquest of Quebec. Of all the American countries, only the US, Canada, Argentina and Uruguay are not mostly descended from Native Americans, at least in part.

  13. BaldarTFlagass

    It's pretty hard to understand how anyone in the world can even pretend to like the United States.

    1. MichelesPantalones

      And yet, a VietNamese farmer rescued John McCain after he crashed his plane. Even though the US had dropped tons of bombs on his country.

    1. SayItWithWookies

      Why do people who say (erroneously, of course) that torture saved lives seem to have such an aversion to the word?

  14. Chillwaver

    This proves Rick Perry's theory that all scientists are money-driven whores that will do anything to get Gov't grants. Therefore, Climate Change is not real.

  15. baconzgood


    Seriously. Sometimes it really shames me to be American. We're not exactly the nicest country sometimes.

  16. WunkRocker

    The Great State of North Carolina had a Eugenics program going on into the 70's. Suck it Guatemala.

      1. MichelesPantalones

        Thank you so much, Oliver Wendell Holmes, for that opinion in Buck v. Bell. There's a woman suing right now for her sterilization in that benighted state, if I'm not mistaken. Does it ever end?

      1. WunkRocker

        Srsly. Meanwhile in Mecklenburgistan we kept telling kids we were putting them under for teeth cleanings and snipping their reproductive organs more than the other 99 counties. NEVER accept free medical care from the gubmint. Death Panels? Hheehhhhnnnnnnnggh?!!

  17. angryhaiku

    Can I go back to 1941 and join Team Japan? I wouldn't have thought we could do shit that would make the Rape of Nanjing and comfort women look "meh" in comparison. USA #1

    1. MichelesPantalones

      I was going to say something about Unit 731, but then I realized that the US Government was complicit in ensuring that Shiro Ishii and most of his team were never prosecuted. In fact, some of them went on to work for large Japanese corporations and were rewarded for their "distinguished service." Thanks to us, of course.

  18. subsum

    I'm waiting to see what Fox News' argument is going to be to defend the scientists who did this and the policy that motivated the creation of this "program". I'm pretty sure they will defend it. To them, government work is God's work as long as it involves screwing non-whites.

    1. Doktor Zoom

      It Was A Long Time Ago And Dragging It Up Now Just Hurts America. Why Do You Liberals Always Blame America?

    2. ttommyunger

      You think it will get a mention in or Media? Faux, especially? Surely you jest. You don't mind if I call you……

      1. MichelesPantalones

        Naive? Stupid? Clueless? Optimistic?

        Surely even our media whores will stop palpating their genitalia long enough to put (sticky) fingers to keyboard for something this big? No?

    3. mumbly_joe

      I dunno, though- siding with scientists??? My money's actually on Fox News finding a way to make this about how global warming is a fraud or how Obamacare is death panels.

    4. zhubajie

      FOX will probably ignore the story, or claim that it's false, invented to get money or something.

    1. subsum

      It is on fire already. We're almost through this year's One Hundred Days of Hell (100 days of 100-degree temperatures) and no rain in sight yet.

      1. SorosBot

        Better get used to it; from now on 100 straight days of 100 degree temperatures in Texas will likely be known as "summer".

    1. MichelesPantalones

      Thank you. I think I had heard of that book in my usual dim daily fog. Clearly, I should read it.

    2. CivicHoliday

      I listened to an interview with several of her family members on NPR recently. Such a sad and crazy story.

  19. Mahousu

    Conducted between 1946 and 1948, the experiments were led by John Cutler, a US health service physician who would later be part of the notorious Tuskegee syphilis study in Alabama in the 1960s.

    Because, when you've got a good gig going, who wants to give it up, right?

    1. chicken_thief

      Jesus fucking Christ, who approved these experiments?! You'd think after the first one they'd say "yo, John, wtf is with you and STD's? Ya know, we still have a long way to go in finding a cure for cancer." or something like that.

  20. x111e7thst

    The is no statue of limitations for murder. If any of these "doctors" are still alive they should be prosecuted.

    1. MichelesPantalones

      This is not just murder. This is crimes against humanity. No statute of limitations.

  21. baconzgood

    (in my Tom Brokaw voice)

    America's Greatest Generation. I mean the Clap in the eye balls……two words: FUUUUUUUUUCKED UP!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. prommie

      Hey did you know, to this day, the first thing they do with a baby after it is born, is put silver iodide eye drops in its eyes, to prevent it from getting gonorreah of the eyes from the mother? And I believe they may have been exploring co-infections because it had already been discovered that malaria can "cure" syphillis.

        1. MichelesPantalones

          In a less debilitating manner, too, if I recall correctly. "Exploring co-infections" should not result in experimentation upon live human subjects exposing them to dangerous diseases, which, IIRC, is banned by all international treaties and laws on human rights. We executed several Japanese and German military personnel for doing the same. Although it's also true that we helped some of the worst of their war criminals to evade prosecution, as we continue to do today.

  22. FlipOffResearch

    God we've been abusing that country for decades, and still are. I was looking for an article to share with you guys, but I can't find it. It was about how the banana plantations and some sort of vegetable oil plantations take up all the arable land leaving the peasant class with little choice besides working on the plantation for slave wages. One option more are taking is to go north to america.

    So enjoy your cheap bananas.

    1. comrad_darkness

      Back up a few years to the attempted repatriation of the land and Henry Kissenger's invention of the Banana Republic.

      Good times. Good times. But they hate us for our freedums, don't you know? Also.

      1. BaldarTFlagass

        You've got to go a bit further back than that. The CIA was overthrowing Guatemalan governments when Henry was still working on his PhD dissertation. Just look up Jacobo Arbenz. United Fruit FTW!!!

      2. MichelesPantalones

        I just Tweeted this story with a variation of that exact comment: No, they don't hate us for our freedoms.

        Gads. Just how much blood and murder IS on our collective conscience, anyway?

          1. MichelesPantalones

            I'm reading about the attacks on Cambodia, right now.

            I think I understand why a lot of RWNJs deny reality. The reality of what the US did here is horrible.

      1. MichelesPantalones

        Science News had an excellent recent article about the exact nature of the threat to the Dole banana. Of course, if you have ever lived anywhere in the tropics, you know that bananas come in all shapes, sizes, and flavours, unlike the ubiquitous yellow crescent offered by the Dole company (pretty fucking bland and tasteless, in my opinion. A good banana should smell like cat butt). Thanks for the link, I really should go listen to that.

    2. emmelemm

      Slightly off-topic: I was on a movie-related site, and there was some discussion of Commando (Arnold Schwartzenegger movie of the 80s), and some commenters used the phrase "Banana Republic".

      Some obviously young commenters has NO IDEA what that phrase meant unless it referred to overpriced clothes.

    3. MichelesPantalones

      Arbenz, UFC, and in any event, this particular strain of banana is now falling prey to some sort of disease that will wipe it out soon, so it's all for naught. In the attempt to breed this strain as some sort of commercially preferred fruit, we pretty much isolated and wiped out many members of the banana family just for the Dole corporation.

        1. MichelesPantalones

          Yes. Yet we keep attacking the diversity around us, trying to reduce it to something we can control, only to find we have done even greater harm than if we had left it alone.

  23. Radiotherapy®

    I'm shocked! Our gov't would NEVER conspire. Especially in the light of the upcoming, much anticipated, 10th Anniversary of the Day of Heroes.

  24. ttommyunger

    True, Bacon. Also brings to mind the 2011 (as in current) programs by our Pharma Giants using the poors in undeveloped countries to test their wares. Yes, Pilgrims, today.

  25. prommie

    Apparently, pennicillin has eradicated even the memory of what a public health horror syphillis once was. In most states, you still have to get a syphillis test to get married, it never got to that point with aids. The doctors involved apparently beleived they were on a crusade to rid the world of a scourge and therefore the ends justified the means.

        1. Biel_ze_Bubba

          It's hard to imagine a time when it wouldn't occur to anybody involved that maybe they should blow the whistle. Consider that the Nuremberg "Doctors' Trials" were held simultaneously with these experiments, and were headline news (seven men hanged) … yet there's no sign that anybody stopped for a moment and went, "hmm…"

      1. MichelesPantalones

        There must have been a dim glimmer of conscience in them all, warning them that this was not a deed in line with that oath they once took: First, do NO HARM.


    1. Biel_ze_Bubba

      "The doctors involved apparently beleived they were on a crusade to rid the world of a scourge and therefore the ends justified the means."

      Actually, they were on a mission to rid the U.S. military of a scourge.
      Which was enough to justify the means.

      They never published anything, by the way, so naming names is going to take some digging.

  26. Thurman Munster IV

    Faux news will find a way to spin this as another example of how Obama doesn't love Amerikkka in 1…2…3…

    1. prommie

      Through all time, it has been the universal law, that might makes right, that to the victor goes the spoils, that rape and pillage is the right of the conqueror, that enslavement and death are the fate of the vanquished. That a significant segment of the US population has reached the stage where they are horrified by the commonplace cruelties that have always been part of human existence is, well, its progress. Really, I mean it.

      1. SheriffRoscoe

        Yes, and anyone old enough to have been to a real, live circus, (ala Ringling or Barnum, not one of those new age, sexytime "cirques") would realize that. Maybe we are still evolving?

          1. SheriffRoscoe

            Having said that, it disturbs me to see the level of blind, fervent patriotism so prevalent in America today. Patriotism and religious zealotry are two things holding us back as a species, in my opinion.

          2. prommie

            I'm guessing its brought on by our fall, the retreat from our height of prosperity and power. Since Reagan, there has been a generation of decreasing wages and scarce jobs. I think its the same mechanism at play which led Weimar Germany to spawn the Nazis.

          3. emmelemm

            Exactly. Crazy-eyed demagogues who play on people's fear and anger over disastrous economic conditions, advocate restrictions on any and all "minority" groups, accuse anyone who disagrees with them of being unpatriotic… check, check, CHECK.

            Are we doomed?

          4. proudgrampa

            Well said, Roscoe. With people like you in the world, there is hope. And I mean that. Really.



      2. ShaveTheWhales

        Imperfect (or dreadful) as we may be, the fact that some of us want to puke about historical misbehavior is a positive sign. The fact that the majority of us are able to stomach current misbehavior (e.g., black sites) suggests that it's not very positive.

  27. mavenmaven

    American exceptionalism! Couldn't let those Germans pull ahead of us in criminal medical experiments!

  28. donner_froh

    Add the syphilis experiments in 1958, the CIA coup against the popularly elected socialist government in 1954, the U.S. military and diplomatic support for the oligarchs in the civil war that started in 1965, arming and providing intelligence for death squads from the 1970s onward and the destruction of the Guatemalan civil society led by neo-cons led by Elliot Abrams…

    and you see why the United States of Amerikkka is so loved throughout Central America.

  29. joobajooba

    Don't forget the CIA started AIDS. And the crack epidemic. Or are those the delusions of conspiracy buffs?

  30. owhatever

    This country does not torture. Much.

    If we cannot punish the people who did this, we should at least publish their names (Hear me, Wikileaks!) so they can be shamed, even if they are dead.

    1. ShaveTheWhales

      I agree. They are too old to punish meaningfully, other than by fouling their names, so we should do that.

      (edit) This reads like sarcasm. It isn't. I'm in complete agreement with you.

  31. SaintRond

    Shooting up brown people in the back of the skull with clap. Lovely. Where do I go to renounce my citizenship?

  32. glamourdammerung

    While clearly unethical, still not as straight up weird as Stalin trying to create human-ape hybrids. Ewwwww.

  33. MichelesPantalones

    I have no words. Soldiers killing and torturing people, I can understand. It's what we train them for. *Medical doctors* who take an oath not to harm other people, killing and torturing people — no. Just no.

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