Breaking the Nuremberg Code: The US Military’s Human-Testing (videos)

Dandelion Salad

By Heather Wokusch
featured writer
Dandelion Salad

Part 1 of Heather Wokusch discussing “Breaking the Nuremberg Code.” Covers Edgewood Arsenal, Project 112/SHAD and Stratton VA.

Part 2 of “Breaking the Nuremberg Code: The US Military’s Human-Testing Program Returns.” Covers open-air testing of biological and chemical weapons and recent Pentagon tests.


Breaking the Nuremberg Code: The US Military’s Human-Testing Program Returns By Heather Wokusch

16 thoughts on “Breaking the Nuremberg Code: The US Military’s Human-Testing (videos)

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  5. Heather,

    I believe you misconstrued my comments about ground contaminants at Edgewood. There are many areas where the ground contains more than the EPA standards allow (including my own back yard in Tehachapi, which had excessive manganese).

    My point is that thousands of civilian employees and military personnel have lived and worked at Edgewood Arsenal (for up to 57 years) and few if any appear to have suffered a noticeable increase in the incidence of medical problems. Working close to large amounts of nerve gas, etc. is more likely to have had unrecognized deleterious effects, but no one has provided such a connection, to my knowledge. Furthermore, we in the medical lab handled amounts BILLIONS of times smaller in quantity than what were being processed and stored elsewhere. We had only MILLIGRAM or GRAM amounts stored in our clinical pharmacy, vs. TONS of toxic agents being produced and packaged for possible use in factory buildings some distance away.

    You seem to think we tested hundreds of chemicals on volunteers. I estimate that less than 40 significantly different drugs (you call them chemical weapons) were given to soldiers between 1955 and 1975 and these were not different in principle and mode of action from drugs prescribed and approved by the FDA today.

    Chemical weapons are named as such only when they have been selected as being the most safe, effective and practical among the thousands that might be considered. Thus, close to 100% of the chemicals which were screened in animals were considered for actual testing in man. Very few PhD pharmacologists, incidentally, have been among those protesting our work. Most of the criticisms have been by biologists, few of whom are experts in drug actions and characteristics.

    Tuskegee is hardly a fair analogy to throw up (as many do) when discussing our work. It was certainly done improperly and unethically, but it involved a biological agent (the syphilis spirochete) that is transmissible. Chemicals, on the other hand are non-living molecules and leave the body without affecting other individuals. They are drugs, not vectors of disease.

    I am glad Mike gave you his opinion of my integrity. We had a prolonged exchange of honest opinion and reached a point of friendly cooperation. He is certainly intelligent, resourceful (and relentless) in his wish to have the VA admit causative relations between illness and PTSD, rather than one or two injections of small amounts of ordinary or perhaps slightly novel drugs given many years ago.

    The argument about informed consent should be reviewed more carefully, noting the extensive procedures and approvals required for even one chemical to be accepted by a volunteer. In my opinion, our standards went beyond, not fell short, of Nuremberg requirements (as I explained in my book, which I hope you have read. Let me know if you would like a free downloadable PDF copy to review.)

    In my book, I pointed out that the creators of the Nuremberg Code were probably not thinking of psychochemical tests when they required either the subject or doctor to be able to stop the experiment immediately when either thought it to be proving subjectively intolerable or might be causing medical harm. The Code never mentions a need to provide the name of drugs or chemicals being tested, for example. Although security concerns constrained us from giving names (or formulas) of the test agents, we conformed assiduously to the overall task of fully familiarizing and answering questions from subjects before requesting and obtaining signed consents.

    I also believe that in 1949 (before psychopharmacology came of age) the Code had in mind stressful external physical demands similar to the Nazi studies of the lethality of cold water, heat, sleep deprivation and the like — all of which could be stopped immediately if so desired. We, of course, employed none of these inhumane methods and only used substances that, once in the body, would not cause serious distress but could not be immediately removed or reversed. This is true of all human studies of administered drugs or other chemicals so that, by these criteria, all clinical studies of drugs violate the Nurember rules.

    I wish a more careful assessment of our studies vis-a-vis the Nuremberg Code would be carried out by a committee of impartial scientists. (I may even write one myself in cooperation with other concerned clinicians and pharmacologists.)

    Anyhow, thanks for responding to my remarks, but please keep an open mind before condemning Edgewood studies, approved by Congress, the Surgeon General and the Department of the Army before they were begun. Surely, no one considered them inhumane then, nor do I now.

    Jim Ketchum

  6. Hi, Heather, Doctor Ketchum has been the only person to discuss the truth about Edgewood Arsenal and the experiments with me since my quest for the truth began in October 2002. We had an obnoxious start when we first started e mailing each other, he told me to go to Area 51 and play and after that we got into serious discussions. We have spent many hours in discussion and I feel DR ketchums honor and integrity are without question of the highest possible. He was decieved about the role of the CIA and DR Sidney Gottlieb in the funding and research control, which would not be unusual given the tight control of Edgewood Arsenal and Fort Detrick.

    It is my belief that the IOM and the NAS reports on the veterans health studies has been less than totally honest on the subect of exposures, they fulfilled contracts written by the Department of Defense and they ignored two very important research papers on chemical weapon exposure one published by a Doctor Karl Heinz Lohs a German doctor who worked with Wermacht soldiers after WW2 that worked in the German chemical weapons program the work is titled the Delayed Toxic Effects of Chemical Warfare Agents

    Click to access cw-delayed.pdf

    and a 1994 National Institute of Health report on Chemical weapon exposure

    Both or these reports show medical problems related to low level exposures which the IOM and the DOD and the VA refuse to recognize

    But DR Ketchum has my full trust and confidence as a man. He like I said has been the only man to speak the truth to me as he knows it.

  7. Hi again Jim

    Actually, the EPA’S Superfund site lists a very long page of contaminants found at Edgewood here:

    The document indicates that the contaminants, which range from arsenic to mustard gas, affect soil, sediment, groundwater and surface water. The EPA page is introduced with: ‘The chemical substances (i.e., hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants) listed below were identified as contaminants of concern (COC) for the site. COCs are the chemical substances found at the site
    that the EPA has determined pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment.’

    As such, I don’t understand: ‘Your remarks about the toxic environment at Edgewood are not scientifically supportable by any relevant data.’ The data is there and has been for a long time.

    Regarding human-subject testing in general, of course, the same ethical standards should apply for civilian and military research. The Tuskegee Experiments, for example, were inexcusable. EPA’s 2006 plan to permit pesticide experimentation on individuals (including pregnant women and children) was inexcusable too. The reasons that many focus on military human-subject testing are both the sheer numbers of people involved and the kinds of substances sometimes tested (chemical weapons, etc.).

    As for, “I realize that some former volunteers believe they did not provide informed consent for our tests” – if, as you say, the “clinical staff provided more than sufficient
    information before asking any volunteer to participate in each and every drug test,” then why do you think some Edgewood survivors believe they did not provide informed consent? Along those lines, what compensation do you believe Edgewood survivors should receive?


  8. Dear Heather (and dandilionsalad),

    I realize that some former volunteers believe they did not provide informed consent for our tests. I hear from some — you hear from others. In the interest in of objectivity, I suggest you read my book, which goes into this subject more deeply. Also, read the comments and reviews on my web site.

    If you agree we unavoidably failed to observe the Nuremberg Code with regard to immediately stopping tests on request or based on the doctors judgment, you should be willing to apply the same criteria to the hundreds of civilian physicians who test drugs in volunteers to see if they work, or to obtain data that would help characterize the drug’s pharmacological properties. Do you have reason to exempt them, but not the Army for these unavoidable violations? Seems a bit illogical. You side-stepped this point and I’d like your answers. Obviously the Code was not devised to include the inevitable limitations of drug testing.

    Your remarks about the toxic environment at Edgewood are not scientifically supportable by any relevant data. Ironically, one of the most vocal former volunteers on this point is one whom I recently helped with a letter to obtain compensation from the government that had been denied. He agreed after we exchanged emails that there was no logical basis for his blaming the “toxic soil” at Edgewood, but that he had indeed suffered PTSD and major physical problems after several truly traumatic war experiences.

    In short, I believe our clinical staff provided more than sufficient information before asking any volunteer to participate in each and every drug test — more indeed than did many civilian research physicians. Unfortunately, the military has chosen not to publicize the facts (including several carefully designed long-term follow-up studies) repudiating claims of harm from the Edgewood program. This hesitancy was one of the major reasons I decided to write my book.

    I hope you and other commentators will review the detailed historic record contained therein and reconsider your condemnation of our research procedures.

    Jim Ketchum

  9. Jim, Heather Wokusch here. Thank you for your input.

    The observation that ‘once a drug is in the body, it is almost never possible to terminate the test … a physical procedure can be stopped, but a chemical one cannot’ is critical and by itself argues against the idea that these vets really were informed prior to the testing. That point alone indicates breaches to numerous elements of the Nuremberg Code, as you indicate.

    None of the vets I have spoken with have said that they provided truly informed consent. Blogs and message boards speak volumes. Here are two, for example:;f=9;t=000036;p=0

    It is possible that some form was put in front of some of these young troops and they were ordered to sign it, but that is a far cry from truly informed consent.

    There is also the connected issue of the environmental degradation that took place at Edgewood, polluted drinking water etc. (here’s a link to the Superfund page: It cannot be said that the troops involved, let alone the neighboring public, were adequately informed about the risks of exposure to these toxins.

    Bottom line, the past cannot be changed, but these veterans deserve compensation today. It is inexcusable that so many have been fighting against a system that doesn’t take responsibility for the physical debilitation they have suffered.

    What is your take on why compensation has been so elusive for Edgewood veterans? Any ideas for what can be done now to break through this wall they are up against?


  10. As an Army Medical Officer I was directly involved in the design and conduct of experiments with military volunteers. Your discussion is interesting and mostly accurate. However, it is untrue that the volunteers did not provide informed consent. You may find extensive details about this in my recent book “Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten.” You can obtain a copy at “”

    The Nuremberg Code was followed despite repeated claims by critics. We provided detailed information about the tests and subjects were free to ask questions or to withdraw from participation without penalty. I have received corroboration of this from several former volunteers who read my book as well as colleagues who were familiar with the procedures.

    Ironically, two of the provisions of the code are not adhered to by virtually all civilian medical researchers who test drugs in volunteers. Specifically the following are not observed or cannot be observed once a drug is administered. These requirements are as follows:

    During the course of the experiment, the human subject should be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end, if he has reached the physical or mental state, where continuation of the experiment seemed to him to be impossible.

    During the course of the experiment, the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage, if he has probable cause to believe, in the exercise of the good faith, superior skill and careful judgement required of him, that a continuation of the experiment is likely to result in injury, disability, or death to the experimental subject

    Once a drug is in the body, it is almost never possible to terminate the test until the drug runs its course. The test cannot be terminated, therefore, at the request of the subject or the experimenter. There is usually no antidote available, so the test may continue for hours or days before it ends naturally. I find it strange that this anomaly has not been discussed previously (to my knowledge). A physical procedure can be stopped, but a chemical one cannot, once the drug is in the body.

    Do you have a comment? I’d like you to read my book, which deals with many misconceptions and inaccuracies about our test program at Edgewood Arsenal.

    Best wishes,
    Jim Ketchum

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