Medical Panel: Anthrax Experiments on IDF Soldiers Were Unjustified

According to report, by the time experiments began in 1990s Israel had a satisfactory supply of vaccines.

Anthrax vaccine experiments conducted on Israel Defense Force soldiers in the early 1990s were unjustifiable, states a report, compiled by a panel estblished by the Israel Medical Association (IMA), and authorized for publication on Wednesday.

The experiments, carried out by the IDF's Medical Corps and the Nes Tziona Biological Institute, meant to determine the efficacy of an Anthrax vaccine.

The experiments were carried out in light of what was then defined as the "strategic threat of a surprise biological attack facing Israel. However, the report said that it was not clear who the decision makers were who determined the vaccine's necessity.

The experiment, nicknamed "Omer 2," was held during the first part of the 1990s and included 716 IDF soldiers picked out of a pool of 4,000.

Following a three-month legal battle in Israel's High Court of Justice, the report was finally approved for publication Wednesday.

The report on the experiment was drafted by a special committee of doctors, a legal advisor, and a scientist from the Weizmann Institute of Science

The medical panel was assembled upon the recommendation of the IMA ethics committee and approved by the IDF medical corps, with the court's blessing. The High Court also accepted the request of Defense Ministry's security chief and ordered a few central paragraphs of the report be stricken as a result of national security concerns.

The Chairman of the medical committee, Dr. Reuven Porat, told Haarestz that the panel was not presented with any official evidence indicating that either the government, the defense minister of the IDF chief of staff had authorized the development, testing, or production of the vaccine.

However, the committee did hear oral testimony claiming that then-Prime Minster Yitzhak Rabin ordered the production of the vaccine and that his successor, Shimon Peres, upheld that decision.

The only official document viewed by the committee that "dealt with the experiment" was written by the deputy Defense Minister.

The report insinuates that it was improper motivation that prompted the launch of the experiments, but it does not specify what these motivations were, saying that the panel "could not make out the true inspiration behind them."

The report reveals that even while the experiment was taking place Israel already had a stock of vaccines, a fact which further raised the concern that the experiment wasn't necessary that it was carried out as a result of external pressure.

"An accelerated effort to produce large quantities of the vaccine was underway a year prior to the experiment, and by the time the experiments were launched, Israel had enough vaccines to cover the civilian concerns," the report said.

It was the committee members impression, even though it was not expressed in the final report, that the person who was the driving force behind the experiment was Dr. Avigdor Shafferman, the director of the Nes Tziona Biological Institute and an anthrax specialist.

The committee raised doubts as to Dr. Shafferman's motivations for advancing the experiment. "The committee attempted to determine," the report says, "whether decision makers in the defense and political establishments were pressured by interested anthrax researchers or research establishments to bring about the development of the vaccine, regardless of existing strategic threats."

The report sees Dr. Shafferman's refusal to appear before it as the reason for its inability to definitively answer those questions.

The Medical Corps and the IDF were cooperative and sent representatives to appear before the committee.

The committee's report also severely criticizes the "shroud of secrecy" which the experiments' directors implemented and asks whether "that secrecy was geared at hiding the tests from the Israeli public."

The report concludes that "the committee remains unconvinced as to the necessity of this shroud of secrecy and in any case it is clear that a large number of people did in fact know of the experiment's existence ? a fact which is not in keeping with hiding it from Israel's enemies."

So, the committee states, this "issue is of utmost importance since it raises questions as to the true motives behind the decision to keep the tests secret, including the fact that it was administered to soldiers, which may have not been necessary."

The panel's suspicions were further raised as a result of the fact that while the experiments were conducted on soldiers, their effectiveness or potential hazards were not tested on those sections of the population for which the vaccine was intended. "The selection of soldiers as testing subjects hindered the experiments' declared purpose ? to examine the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in case of wide dissemination to a civilian population," the report said.

The committee also found that the Medical Corps and the IDF did not follow the guidelines of the Helsinki Accords, which has been regulating the procedures of experiments on humans since 1975. According to the report, enlisting soldiers under direct military authority was improper and ran against the principles of the Helsinki Accords.

Israel and the IDF accepted the principles of the Helsinki Accords, declaring many times that they meet their standards. In reality, however, the report states that "the military Helsinki committee failed to fulfill its duties in 'Omer 2' in every one of the points examined by the report."

"No scientific justification was found for the experiment, scientific background was lacking, the experiment's design and execution did not suit its goals, and no result would have justified those goals. Also, conventional guidelines were not followed, risks and possible side effects were not thoroughly investigated, and a follow-up mechanism to keep track of participating soldiers was not set up."

By stating so, the committee in fact reaffirms the claims made by several dozen soldiers, first made public on the Israeli channel two program Uvda (Fact). The soldiers, who claim that the experiment has brought upon life-threatening side effects, are now suing the IDF, with the assistance of attorneys Boaz Ben Tzur and Moshe Mazor, in a bid to obtain documents pertinent to the tests.

Israeli Physicians for Human Rights have also filed a lawsuit through attorney Michael Sfard.

Nonetheless, the Israel Medical Association committee concluded that the experiment's directors conducted the tests "in good faith. We were impressed by the experiment's directors and medical supervisor's credibility, and of the fact that they were convinced that they were doing the best they could do in order to advance what they saw as a worthy project."

As for the claims made by soldiers who testified in the committee, the report states that "the experiment's results have yet to be summarized. However preliminary results show a side effect rate of a few dozen percent, most of which are considered both inconsequential and transient."