A U.S. Judge has ruled that Guatemalans who were intentionally injected with the syphilis virus and other sexually transmitted diseases under a secret U.S. testing program may not sue the government for damages, CBC reports.
The lawsuit, which was brought by victims of the program and their families against officials in the U.S. Surgeon General's Office and The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was rejected in court by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton. To justify the dismissal, Walton cited a federal law that immunizes the U.S government from lawsuits for injuries that occurred overseas, which essentially allows officials to commit state-sponsored crimes abroad with impunity.
Details of the testing program, which received funding from the U.S. National Institute of Health, were revealed in 2010 in the archives of Wellesley College in Massachusetts. According to the findings, between 1,300 and 2,100 Guatemalans were infected with syphilis, gonorrhea or chancroid without their consent from 1946 to 1948.
The covert tests were directed by Dr. John C. Cutler, who gained notoriety for his involvement in the Tuskegee Experiment, a long-term program where treatment was secretly withheld from black men infected with syphilis in order to study the disease's effects. What makes the Guatemala case even more shocking is that the injections were given to men and women who were not already infected.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a public apology to the Guatemalan government in 2010, and BBC reported that Guatemala President Alvaro Colom demanded an investigation, calling it a "crime against humanity". However, White House lawyers opposed the lawsuit in court, claiming that the U.S. government should not be held legally responsible for crimes that occurred decades ago.
While Walton described the secret program as a "deeply troubling chapter in our nation's history," he concluded that the court did not have the power to address the complaints. Walton also suggested that the plaintiffs appeal to "the political branches of our government, who, if they choose, have the ability to grant some modicum of relief," according to AllGov.com.
It is not known whether the victims and their kin will eventually take their case to an international court or petition the U.S. Congress for reparations. Either way, it appears that true justice for those who have been affected will be delayed indefinitely.