Military 'Researchers' Strapped Pigs in Body Armor and Blew Them Up, All in the Name of Science

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The ‘study’ was conducted last year in an undisclosed location, with the supposed goal of linking bomb blasts and brain injuries.

By Liliana Segura

As long as we’re discussing the military budget, let’s talk about this: Pentagon researchers spent nearly $10 million dollars last year strapping pigs in body armor and blowing them up.

No, really; USA Today reports: "During an 11-month period of research ending in December, scientists wrapped pigs in body armor and placed them in a Humvee simulator, in open fields and in a closed room and subjected them to varying degrees of explosions at a research laboratory in a location researchers declined to disclose." The explosions "ranged in intensity," according to military researchers, "wounding some of the pigs and killing others."

The point? To "study the link between roadside bomb blasts and brain injury." Roadside bombs, after all, are the "top killer of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."

     Senseless pig killing aside, there’s a perverse irony to this story, which is that the Pentagon only recently acknowledged that, as USA Today reports, "up to 360,000 veterans … may have suffered brain injuries" known as "blast-induced neurotraumas." Until last month, the Department of Defense was too busy claiming all those soldiers were merely suffering from "mild concussions," or entirely imaginary ailments, as AlterNet contributor Nora Eisenberg wrote a few weeks back. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that military scientists spent the better part of last year trying to understand blast-induced brain injuries at all.

So what were their conclusions? Well, for one thing, "body armor does not worsen brain injury," researchers found, a statement that would seem to be masquerading as common sense were it not for the military’s apparent concern that armor might "deflect the force of blasts towards the head." (It doesn’t.) Not surprisingly, pigs without body armor "died from blasts within 24 to 48 hours, while those with armor survived ‘significantly higher blasts,’" according to Jan Walker, a spokeswoman for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which conducted the study.

A visit to the DARPA websitePowered by Ideas! — makes no mention of its exploding pig research; the news page instead features its work on "game-changing cyber-innovation" and "next-generation academics" and other tech-genius sounding protjects. But Col. Geoffrey Ling, who led the slaughter research, defends its value, telling USA Today that "pigs are good subjects because their brains are more similar to human brains than those of rats.” (Which is confusing, given that rats were also used as exploding test subjects.)

Anyway, according to Walker, the Department of Defense "complied with policies that ensure that a minimal number of animals were used in the testing and that they were treated humanely at all times."

That is of course until they strapped the swine in body armor (or not) and blew them up, causing them to suffer bloody injuries or slow agonizing deaths — all on taxpayers’ dime!

Animal rights activists, who have long decried the cruel use of pigs in military experiments, are understandably critical of this latest round of violent animal testing. Martin Stephens, vice president for animal research issues at the U.S. Humane Society called on the Pentagon to stop its research on pigs, asking,"Is this the best they can do after several years of losing soldiers to roadside bombs?"

Apparently it is, according to the military. A fresh round of testing will begin later this year.

Liliana Segura is a staff writer and editor of AlterNet’s Rights and Liberties and War on Iraq Special Coverage.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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