08/09/2005 03:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why, Mr. Rumsfeld, Is the U.S. Army Violating DoD Policy by Exposing Primates to Nerve Agent Simulants?

We know that it is sometimes irate mothers and fathers who have to push the military to provide safer vehicles and more protective gear for personnel in Iraq. Here is another tale of how military training could be improved.

Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland is a pretty scary place if you're a monkey or, for that matter, one of the human beings who ends up on the receiving end of the biological and chemical warfare agents there—not that you would be, of course, because, as we all know, the U.S. has not been in the business of producing biological or chemical warfare agents since 1969 or thereabouts. Except for biodefense purposes. OK, then.

PETA has learned that the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, which operates out of Aberdeen, requisitions small vervet monkeys, just as one might requisition tires or toilet paper. And, in a course called Medical Management of Chemical and Biological Casualties, students are taught how to "manage casualties" by trying to resuscitate monkeys who have succumbed to doses of a nerve agent-like substance.

One imagines that these monkeys, far from their homes and with no family in sight, would choose not to wake up at all over being revived and put back into their metal boxes—feeling like hell, scared and alone, not to mention being pretty sick—only to be used again later for something else and then killed. A participant in this course recently described in a university newsletter how one monkey was put into a state of "cholinergic crisis," a condition characterized by severe symptoms, including vomiting, seizures, coma, and paralysis—which can lead to death if the lungs are affected. These symptoms can, of course, be read in a textbook, and not even the dullest of students needs a living illustration anymore than a police recruit needs to have assault and battery demonstrated.

With the Geneva Convention out the window, it might not shock anyone that what is going on at Aberdeen Proving Ground violates the DoD's own February 16, 2005, animal welfare policy. That document states that monkeys cannot be used for such testing. To wit: "Prohibited uses for dogs, cats, nonhuman primates, and marine mammals are the following: … Inflicting wounds with any type of weapon(s) to conduct training in surgical or other medical treatment procedures."

Not only is there a policy problem with this training course then, but learning how to resuscitate monkeys, who are emotionally but not physiologically like human beings, is like thinking that the best way to train battlefield medics is to have them work on a goat in a laboratory. Oh, wait—at some military bases, they do still think that.

Putting aside the suffering of these monkeys and the secretary of defense's cavalier disregard for the letter of the law, there are videos, lectures, manikin models, and human field training that can teach every one of the learning objectives in the course. Additionally, the Army has developed—and even recommends—a state-of-the-art simulator called STATCare, which can assess patients, perform chemical exposure and antidote modeling, and display medically relevant animation, all on a computer. For the sake of both monkeys and soldiers and for the sake of those who might benefit from the actions of someone trained in the best possible way, the monkeys should be discharged from their involuntarily "service" at Aberdeen. For more information, visit