Sunday, November 30, 2008
Few people in Vermont remember Dr. Robert W. Hyde, but one of his former patients can’t forget him. The doctor was involved in one of the nation’s darkest chapters in medical science: In the 1950s, Hyde conducted drug and psychological experiments at a Boston hospital through funding that apparently originated with the CIA. Later, he became director of research at the Vermont State Hospital.
The patient, Karen Wetmore, is convinced that Hyde and other researchers subjected her and possibly other patients to experiments paid for by the CIA at the Waterbury facility.
In addition to her claim, new evidence, though incomplete, suggests that such tests might have been conducted at the Vermont State Hospital.
Several books and numerous newspaper accounts have detailed how techniques developed through testing, including on mental health patients at hospitals in other parts of the country, are related to the interrogation methods used in Guantanamo and other locations in the war on terror. These well-known and well-documented drug experiments began in secret after the Korean War and were sponsored by the U.S. government.
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News accounts and histories of the experiments have not mentioned the Vermont State Hospital, but a congressional committee concluded that dozens of institutions, some of which have never been identified, were involved in secret experiments for the CIA.
A complicated, disturbing story
Wetmore, who grew up in Brandon and now lives in Rutland, resided at the Vermont State Hospital for extended periods in her teens and early 20s.
Hyde had a long and distinguished career as a psychiatrist and university researcher before he returned to Vermont in the late 1960s. He died in Bakersfield, his birthplace, in 1976.
This story centers on the possible intersection of Hyde’s research work and Wetmore’s experiences at the state hospital. The strands of the narrative, constructed from government documents and her memory, is complicated, confusing and sometimes disturbing.
Her claim, that the Waterbury hospital was involved in experimentation on patients, has never been reported despite numerous instances in which it could have come to public attention, including a lawsuit that Wetmore settled out of court.
Further complicating matters is Wetmore’s severe memory loss, which she says is the result of her treatment at the Vermont State Hospital where she says she was given experimental drugs, experienced repetitive electroshock therapy and was subjected unwittingly to other tests. Her medical records from the Vermont State Hospital, including daily logs and summaries of her treatment support these claims.
Another obstacle for Wetmore is the social stigma of mental illness. She says once a patient is committed to a mental hospital, “the first thing they take away from you is your credibility.”
In order to figure out what really happened to her at the Vermont State Hospital and to overcome this credibility gap, Wetmore has spent more than 12 years collecting and analyzing reams of government documents, including state hospital records, declassified CIA paperwork and histories of MK-Ultra, the code name of the CIA’s best-known clandestine research projects on mind-control.
At many points Wetmore reached dead ends: The government denied her requests for certain documents and heavily redacted key evidence from others. Some documents were destroyed.
In 1997, Wetmore decided to bring a lawsuit against the state. A psychiatrist and a Rutland lawyer agreed to help her with the case and spent months collecting and poring over evidence. They both came to the conclusion that Wetmore was the subject of drug experiments at the hospital.
Wetmore and her advocates could not unequivocally link her case to the CIA’s research activities at other institutions through government documents from the agency, but histories of the CIA’s psychiatric testing, other documents and a preponderance of circumstantial evidence around Wetmore’s treatment based on her medical records suggest the Vermont State Hospital may have been one of the sites for secret experimentation.
The CIA destroyed much of the evidence regarding the drug and psychological tests on unwitting patients in the 1970s as the truth about its funding for the tests came to light, according to a 1975 congressional review headed by U.S. Sen. Frank Church.
Several authors have examined government research programs in other parts of the country, but they have not fingered the Vermont State Hospital as a site for the secret experiments.
This article was posted: Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 10:00 am