EXCLUSIVE: DoD Report Reveals Some Detainees Interrogated While Drugged, Others “Chemically Restrained”
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)Detainees in custody of the US military were interrogated while drugged with powerful antipsychotic and other medications that “could impair an individual’s ability to provide accurate information,” according to a declassified Department of Defense (DoD) inspector general’s report that probed the alleged use of “mind altering drugs” during interrogations.
In addition, detainees were subjected to “chemical restraints,” hydrated with intravenous (IV) fluids while they were being interrogated and, in what appears to be a form of psychological manipulation, the inspector general’s probe confirmed at least one detainee – convicted “dirty bomb” plotter Jose Padilla – was the subject of a “deliberate ruse” in which his interrogator led him to believe he was given an injection of “truth serum.”
Truthout obtained a copy of the report – “Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Mind-Altering Drugs to Facilitate Interrogations of Detainees” – prepared by the DoD’s deputy inspector general for intelligence in September 2009, under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request we filed nearly two years ago.
Over the past decade, dozens of current and former detainees and their civilian and military attorneys have alleged in news reports and in court documents that prisoners held by the US government in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan were forcibly injected with unknown medications and pills during or immediately prior to marathon interrogation sessions in an attempt to compel them to confess to terrorist-related crimes of which they were accused.
The inspector general’s investigation was unable to substantiate any of the allegations by current and former detainees that, as a matter of government policy, they were given mind-altering drugs “to facilitate interrogation.”
But the watchdog’s report provides startling new details about the treatment of detainees by US military personnel. For example, the report concludes, “certain detainees, diagnosed as having serious mental health conditions being treated with psychoactive medications on a continuing basis, were interrogated.”
Leonard Rubenstein, a medical ethicist at Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights and the former president of Physicians for Human Rights, said, “this practice adds another layer of cruelty to the operations at Guantanamo.”
“The inspector general’s report confirms that detainees whose mental deterioration and suffering was so great as to lead to psychosis and attempts at self-harm were given anti-psychotic medication and subjected to further interrogation,” said Rubenstein, who reviewed a copy of the report for Truthout. “The problem is not simply what the report implies, that good information is unlikely to be obtained when someone shows psychotic symptoms, but the continued use of highly abusive interrogation methods against men who are suffering from grave mental deterioration that may have been caused by those very same methods.”
Shayana Kadidal, the senior managing atty of the Guantanamo Project at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the report, which he also reviewed, “reinforces that the interrogation system at Guantanamo was a brutal system.”
“One of the things that struck me after reading this,” Kadidal said, “is under the system set up by the [US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia], any statements detainees made during these interrogations would be presumed accurate even if detainees took medication that could produce unreliable information.”
“The burden ends up falling upon the detainee to prove what was said wasn’t accurate if they were challenging their detention” in habeas corpus proceedings, Kadidal added.
Explaining the rationale behind forcibly drugging detainees, the former commander of the Joint Medical Group at Guantanamo said, “some detainees were involuntarily medicated to help control serious mental illnesses,” according to the report, which added that an ethics committee approved of such plans.
“For example, one detainee had a piece of shrapnel in his brain which resulted in control problems and a limited ability to provide effective consent,” the report said.
The detainee with the shrapnel injury may be Abu Zubaydah. In 1992, Zubaydah had suffered a shrapnel wound to the head while fighting on the front lines of a civil war in Afghanistan. Brent Mickum, Zubaydah’s habeas attorney, said the high-value detainee has been routinely overdosed with Haldol, the only drug the inspector general identified that was used on certain detainees.
But the report suggests detainees were often not told what types of drugs they were given when they asked or for what purpose it was administered.
Brandon Neely, a former Guantanamo guard who was at the prison facility the day it opened in January 2002, told Truthout, “medics never informed the detainees what the medication was.”
“The medics walked around with little white cups that had pills in it a couple of times a day,” said Neely, who sometimes accompanied the medics when they distributed the medication. He added that if detainees refused to take it an “Immediate Reaction Force” team, who guards would call to deal with resistant or combative detainees, would administer the medication to prisoners by force.
Rubenstein said the failure to inform prisoners what drugs they were given means “some basic principles of medical ethics were cast aside, especially those requiring a doctor to explain his or her recommendation and seek consent for it as an affirmation of the dignity and autonomy of the patient.”
“Even where consent is not forthcoming and involuntary medication is allowed after voluntary medication is not accepted, it should never take place unless this process is followed,” Rubenstein said.
The cumulative effects of indefinite detention, interrogations, use of drugs, and other conditions of confinement also appear to have taken a toll on the detainees’ mental state and impacted the DoD watchdog’s ability to conduct a thorough investigation.
Indeed, when the inspector general sought to interview the attorney representing one detainee who claimed he was given mind-altering drugs during interrogations, the attorney responded, “at this state of his incarceration, [redacted] memory is severely compromised and, unfortunately, we are skeptical that he can provide you with any further details …”
The investigation also found instances where “chemical restraints” were used on detainees “that posed a threat to themselves or others,” which Rubenstein said, “is contrary to US Bureau of Prison regulations, decisions of the US Supreme Court and to medical ethics principles that forbid subordinating the patient’s medical interests to prison security.”
Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Defense Department spokesman, said, “as a matter of long-standing department policy,” he could not comment on whether “chemical restraints” continue to be part of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), also known as Tactics, Techniques, Procedures (TTPs), at Guantanamo and other prisons operated by the DoD because “doing so might not only compromise security but [the SOPs] are ‘living’ documents, subject to regular change and updating.”
Media Report Sparked Probe
The inspector general’s yearlong probe was launched in June 2008, two months after the publication of a Washington Post report in which some detainees claimed they were forcibly drugged and coerced into making confessions.
One of the detainees at the center of The Washington Post report, Adel al-Nusairi, a former Saudi policeman who was imprisoned at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2005, is prominently featured in the inspector general’s report and identified as “IG-02.”
According to his attorney’s notes cited in The Washington Post, al-Nusairi claimed he was injected with an unknown medication that made him extremely sleepy just before he was interrogated in 2002. When his captors awakened him, he fabricated a confession for US interrogators in hopes they would leave him alone so he could sleep.
“I was completely gone,” al-Nusairi told his attorney, Anant Raut. “I said, ‘Let me go. I want to go to sleep. If it takes saying I’m a member of al-Qaeda, I will.'”
The inspector general’s review of al-Nusairi’s medical records showed he was diagnosed as “schizophrenic and psychotic with borderline personality disorder” and injected with Haldol, a powerful antipsychotic medication, whose side effects include lethargy, tremors, anxiety, mood changes and “an inability to remain motionless,” according to the watchdog’s report.
Haldol can also cause the usually irreversible movement disorder known as tardive dyskinesia. But the inspector general did not say that in his report. The inspector general noted al-Nusairi had told his interrogators he was being forced to take monthly injections that he no longer wanted to receive. The report said “uncooperative” detainees were sometimes forcibly injected with psychoactive medications.
But the investigation concluded there was “no evidence that [al-Nusairi] was administered shots during interrogation.”
Despite his diagnosis and the unreliability of the information he provided to his interrogators due to the effects of the antipsychotic medication, al-Nusairi was declared an enemy combatant after he confessed to being a member of al-Qaeda and imprisoned at Guantanamo for three more years before finally being repatriated to Saudi Arabia.
“I think any rational person would agree that confessions of terrorism while under the influence of mind-altering drugs are about credible as professions of love while under the influence of alcohol,” Raut, al-Nusairi’s attorney, told Truthout.
Two days after The Washington Post story was published, then-Sen. Joe Biden, who at the time was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and Sen. Chuck Hagel, a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to DoD Inspector General Claude Kicklighter urging him to investigate the detainees’ allegations and to focus solely on whether the Department of Defense and its sub-agencies issued written and/or oral policy authorizing the use of “mind-altering drugs to facilitate interrogations.”
The CIA’s inspector general also conducted an investigation at the request of the Democratic lawmakers into the claims about the use of mind-altering drugs pertaining to detainees in custody of the agency. That report, which Truthout is also seeking under the FOIA, remains classified.
The inspector general reviewed Department of Defense interrogation policy from 2001 through 2008 and interviewed more than 70 military intelligence and medical officials who had oversight of detainee operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. Top military intelligence officials interviewed by the inspector general said they were “unaware” of any special access “black” program, policies, direction or order authorizing the use of drugs as an interrogation tactic or to “facilitate interrogations.”
The watchdog also looked at classified and open-source documents, including detainees’ medical records and 1,620 interrogation plans covering 411 detainees between August 2002 and January 2005.
“No interrogation plans were noted which mentioned drugging, medicating, or threatening to drug or medicate a detainee to facilitate interrogation,” according to the report, which added that a separate review of detainees’ medical records documenting their “physical and psychological care and treatment” did not turn up any evidence “of mind-altering drugs being administered for the purposes of interrogation.”
“The ‘headline’ here is that there’s no evidence of any organized, systematic [Department of Defense] effort to use drugs for interrogation purposes,” said Gregg Bloche, the author of “The Hippocratic Myth” and a health policy expert and professor of law at Georgetown University who also reviewed the inspector general’s report for Truthout. “Can isolated cases of drug use for interrogation purposes be absolutely ruled out? No – as the report acknowledges, there are gaps in evidence available to the [inspector general]. But if there were such cases, they were likely few and far between.”
But it appears that the probe did not scrutinize other documents, such as a second set of detainee medical records maintained by the Behavioral Science Consultant Teams or BSCTs that may have contained information relevant to the inspector general’s investigation into the use of mind-altering drugs during interrogations.
The BSCTs were made up of psychologists and other mental health technicians and, at one time, psychiatrists. The BSCTs work closely with interrogators in crafting interrogation plans based on the psychological assessments of a detainee’s weaknesses. The BSCT psychiatrists and at least one psychologist who passed a special Defense Department psychopharmacology program were able to administer drugs, at least in principle.
Human rights activists have long believed the Defense Department controlled a second set of detainee medical records, but evidence never surfaced to support the suspicions.
However, Truthout has uncovered previously unreported testimony from Army Surgeon General Kevin Kiley’s 2005 report on detainee medical operations in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan (pg. 18-13) that confirms the suggestion.
Kiley indicated that, while BSCTs were not medical personnel and “did not document the medical condition of detainees in the medical record,” they “did keep a restricted database which provided medical information on detainees.”
Rubenstein added, “if drugs were used those BSCT records should be consulted.”
Jose Padilla and “A Deliberate Ruse”
The report also delves into the area of so-called “truth” drugs, which are administered for their presumed mind-altering effects.
Since the start of the “war on terror,” intelligence officials have publicly said drugs like sodium pentothal should be introduced in interrogations as a way of getting “uncooperative” detainees to talk.
“We ought to look at what options are out there,” former FBI and CIA Director William Webster told reporters in 2002.
The inspector general’s report pointed to instances in which top military officials had considered introducing “truth” drugs during interrogations. The watchdog cited an October 2, 2002 meeting of Guantanamo interrogation command and legal staff where the use of “truth serum” on detainees was discussed as having a “placebo effect.”
George Bimmerle discussed the use of placebos as ersatz “truth drugs” in a classic 1961 CIA text titled “‘Truth’ Drugs in Interrogation.” Bimmerle wrote that placebos are “most likely to be effective in situations of stress.” The drugs are described as acting upon “a subject’s sense of guilt,” absolving a prisoner under interrogation of responsibility for giving up information, because it is assumed the effect of the drug was to blame.
Interrogators utilized the “placebo effect” when they questioned convicted terrorist Jose Padilla, a US citizen who was arrested in May 2002 on suspicion of plotting to build and detonate a dirty bomb and held as an enemy combatant at the US Naval Brig in South Carolina.
Padilla’s federal public defender, Michael Caruso, in a 2006 federal court filing, claimed Padilla was “given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations.”
Sanford Seymour, the technical director of the US Naval brig in South Carolina where Padilla was held, however, vehemently denied the charge during a 2006 hearing to determine whether Padilla, a US citizen, was competent to stand trial. Seymour asserted Padilla was injected with an influenza vaccine.
But what Seymour failed to disclose, reported here for the first time, was that Padilla was given the flu shot during an interrogation session and told by his interrogators the injection was “truth serum.”
The inspector general’s probe determined “the incorporation of a routine flu shot into an interrogation session … was a deliberate ruse by the interrogation team, intended to convince [redacted, Padilla] he had been administered a mind-altering drug,” such as LSD.
Investigators from the inspector general’s office reached that conclusion after a visit to the Naval Brig where they reviewed records and interviewed Brig officials about Padilla’s claims.
Padilla’s name is redacted from the report, but it’s clear, based on the detailed descriptions of the allegations, the inspector general is referring to him. The report says the FBI and Joint Task Force 170, the “predecessor organization” of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, interrogated Padilla from June 2002 through October 2002. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) took over his interrogations from October 2002 through March 2003 at which point the FBI and DIA jointly conducted the interrogations.
The inspector general’s office also viewed some of Padilla’s interrogation videotapes where Padilla “expressed concern about the possible use of drugs to induce him to cooperate with the interrogators.”
“The most detailed discussion of truth serum occurred on November 14, 2002, after [redacted] declined to take a polygraph examination,” according to the inspector general’s report. “The interrogation video recording depicts that following the polygraph declination, [redacted] and the interrogator had a discussion of other techniques which could be used to verify [redacted] statements. Among the techniques described by the interrogator was the use of a ‘truth serum.'”
At the end of the tape, according to the inspector general, the interrogator told Padilla, “There is no such thing as a ‘truth serum.'” But the initial suggestion apparently affected the detainee when he was given a flu shot during his interrogation session about three weeks later. Padilla asked his interrogator why he was given a shot.
“It was necessary,” the interrogator said, “and proceeded to ask [redacted] what kind of shot he received.”
Padilla said he was told it was a flu shot, but as the interrogation wore on he said he did not feel well and asked, “what did you shoot me with? Did you shoot me with serum?”
Bloche, the health policy expert and Georgetown University law professor, said the ruse interrogators pulled on Padilla “sounds like a juvenile prank.”
“But it’s a serious breach of medical ethics,” Bloche said. “It undermines trust in military physicians and it’s an unfair insult to the integrity of the vast majority of military doctors, who quite rightly believe that this sort of thing is contrary to their professional obligation.”
The inspector general rebuked a government agency – possibly the DIA or FBI – involved in Padilla’s interrogation for failing “to follow legal review procedures” established by US Joint Forces Command.
Padilla was convicted of terrorism support charges in 2007. Recently, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal Padilla filed against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials. The high court let stand an appeals court ruling, which dismissed Padilla’s complaint related to his treatment at the Naval Brig. Caruso, Padilla’s federal public defender, did not return messages left at his Miami office for comment about the inspector general’s conclusions.
But just a few months after the deception on Padilla, according to the inspector general’s probe, an unnamed DIA “representative” came up with a list of 40 techniques at the request of a Pentagon “working group” overseen by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that met between January and April 2003 to discuss interrogation methods to use on detainees captured in the global war on terror.
The “DIA representative” was identified in a declassified 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee report that probed the treatment of detainees in custody of the US military as Dave Becker, the Interrogation Control Element (ICE) Chief at Guantanamo. Becker recommended to the “working group” the use of drugs, “such as sodium pentothal and Demerol,” which was number 40 on the list of interrogation methods presented to the “working group.” Becker said those drugs “could prove to be effective” and “relaxes detainee to a cooperative state.”
When Senate Armed Services Committee investigators interviewed him about the list of interrogation techniques, Becker said he had recommended the “use of drugs” to Rumsfeld’s panel because he’d heard “a rumor” that another agency “had used drugs in their interrogation program.”
The inspector general’s report went on to say the working group ultimately rejected the use of drugs. But the report failed to mention an important document: a March 2003 legal opinion sent to Pentgaon general counsel William “Jim” Haynes by Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo, which said drugs could be used in interrogations as long as they did not “disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.” Yoo’s memo was cited in the senators’ letter to the inspector general calling for the investigation. It’s unclear why it was not mentioned in the watchdog’s report.
The investigation also reviewed published reports prepared by the US government and human rights organizations revolving around the treatment of detainees in US custody. One report scrutinized was Kiley’s 2005 US Army surgeon general report on detainee medical operations in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan, which said a doctor refused “to provide cough syrup as a ‘truth drug'” to an Iraqi detainee. The inspector general interviewed this doctor, who indicated the request, which he turned down as unethical, came from his “brigade S-2 (Intelligence Officer).”
The surgeon general’s report also said a licensed practical nurse saw “sedatives (ativan, diazepam, etc.) being used by medical personnel to calm a [Iraqi] detainee so that the detainee would talk more.”
According to the DoD inspector general’s investigation, after the watchdog attempted to obtain a sworn statement from the nurse, identified in its report as a “non-commissioned officer,” about the use of sedatives on detainees, the nurse “elected to make a corrective statement” to what he had claimed three years earlier.
“Sedatives were only given to patient detainees to alleviate pain,” the nurse’s statement now says.
“They Said It Was Some Candy”
The inspector general’s office also received permission from the deputy secretary of defense to interview three detainees in January 2009 about their claims of being forcibly drugged during interrogations. An attorney for one of the detainees declined the interview request. The inspector general did not attempt to interview detainees who claimed they were administered mind-altering drugs during interrogations and have since been repatriated,
The names of the two detainees interviewed are redacted in the report.
The detainee told the inspector general after he was captured in Karachi, Pakistan, by Pakistanis in September 2002 where he held for three days he was transferred to the “Prison of Darkness,” in Kabul, Afghanistan for 40 days. He was then sent to the US prison base at Bagram for about a week and then shipped off to Guantanamo.
“[Redacted] stated that during an interrogation at Bagram he was given pills; green and red ones,” according to statements the detainee gave the inspector general in April 2009. “After I ate like three of them, my tongue started getting heavier. After that, I woke up and they (interrogators) said thank you very much, we’ve got what we need. After I ate the stuff, it was like a state of delusion … it took like three-four days to (feel normal again). I was not normal until I came to Cuba and then I started to feel my mind back. It was a state of delusion. Like everything was a dream. My sensation was not great.”
The inspector general asked the detainee if he was told what the pills were.
“At the time they said it was some candy. And I was so hungry so I ate it,” the detainee said.
The inspector general then asked the detainee if it was possible what he had experienced at the “Prison of Darkness” was due to exhaustion.
“I don’t remember exactly,” the detainee said. “If you saw my condition in the Prison of Darkness after 40 days of being tortured and having to stand all the time at Bagram. Those were things consuming my mind at the time … when I start to remember that, I get somewhat upset, because it was a terrible event in my life. When you had been standing for three-four days in a row, I was so tired, I was exhausted. I can’t describe those sensations.”
Interrogators who questioned the detainee were interviewed by the inspector general’s office. They did not remember the detainee “as each had interrogated over 100 persons during their respected assignments.” They denied giving detainees drugs or medication for “interrogation purposes” and never witnessed other military personnel administer detainees drugs. The interrogators said, however, they “frequently gave the detainees food and candy to reward or encourage them to talk,” such as “Fruit Loops,” “Jolly Ranchers,” “cookies,” “suckers,” and “Taffy’s.”
“Based on the statements provided by the interrogators and lacking any evidence of drugging, we concluded that we could not substantiate [redacted] allegation,” the inspector general’s probe concluded.
The inspector general also interviewed a detainee who was captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March 2002 and claimed after he was transferred to Guantanamo that summer an interrogator told him “he would give me something that will make me talk.”
However, the watchdog was unable “to correlate this information with records and documents pertaining to [the detainee’s] interrogations.”
Responding to the completion of the investigation in August 2009, J. Alan Liotta, the principal director in the office of detainee policy, warned in a letter to the inspector general signing off on the document, “The release of this report is likely to generate media attention.”
“Please keep our office informed as to when it will be released and efforts to craft talking points regarding the release,” Liotta wrote, signing off on the report.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Government Report on Drugging of Detainees Is Suppressed
Tuesday 14 September 2010
by: Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report
A major Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigation on the drugging of detainees held at Guantanamo and other Department of Defense (DoD) facilities was completed almost a year ago and shared with a key Senate committee. According to DoD spokesperson, Maj. Tanya Bradsher, the report is classified. News of the completion of the investigation and the OIG’s report came as a surprise to human rights advocates who had been involved in investigating the drugging claims. While the findings of the investigation is unknown, a spokeswoman for the Senate Armed Services Committee said the OIG’s investigation did not substantiate allegations of drugging of prisoners for the “purposes of interrogation.” The involuntary use of drugs on prisoners would violate a number of domestic and international laws, as well as basic ethical codes of the medical professions.
Truthout filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last week to gain access to the OIG report. Kelly McHale, a senior FOIA Specialist who works in the Inspector General’s office, said Tuesday the Defense Department “may be unable to respond to your request within the FOIA’s 20 day statutory time period as there are unusual circumstances which may impact on our ability to quickly process your request.
“These unusual circumstances may be: (a) the need to search for and collect records from a facility geographically separated from this Office; (b) the potential volume of records responsive to your request; and (c) the need for consultation with one or more other agencies or DoD components having a substantial interest in either the determination or the subject matter of the records,” McHale wrote in an email in response to Truthout’s FOIA request. “For these reasons, we placed your request in our complex processing queue and will process it consistent with the order in which we received your request. Please note that we currently have an administrative workload of 105 cases.”
Stephen Soldz, president-elect for Psychologists for Social Responsibility, who also wrote about the drugging controversy in April 2008, told Truthout, “Given that ex-detainees’ accounts of other abuses have repeatedly proved reliable when they were independently corroborated by official documents and accounts from guards, there is no reason to doubt detainees’ accounts of drugging. Was ‘interrogation’ defined so narrowly as to exclude drug use designed to make detainees cooperate with interrogators or to instill terror or confusion in detainees?” Soldz asked.
The initial impetus for the OIG investigation was a Washington Postexposé by reporter Joby Warrick in April 2008. A few weeks prior to the Post story, Jeff Stein had written about the drugging of prisoners in an article at Congressional Quarterly, noting that the chief federal defender for supposed al-Qaeda suspect Jose Padilla asserted in a 2007 legal motion that Padilla was “was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations.” Warrick’s story described as an example of possible drugging the case of former Saudi detainee, Adel al-Nusairi. According to his attorney, “[Nusairi] was injected in the arm with something that made him tired – that made his brain cloudy. When he would try to read the Koran, his brain would not focus. He had unusual lethargy and would drool on himself.”
More recent accounts of drugging by detainees include charges by Abdul Aziz Naji, who was forcibly repatriated to Algeria from Guantanamo July 2010. Naji told an Algerian newspaper that detainees at Guantanamo were forced “to take some medicines for three months to drive them crazy, loosing [sic] memory and committing suicide.” According to an important exposé by Scott Horton at Harpers last winter, at least one of the three Guantanamo prisoners that DoD claimed committed suicide in 2006 had needle marks on both of his arms. According to Horton, the Obama administration has refused to open an investigation into these mysterious deaths, which allegedly took place at a previously unreported black site at Guantanamo, known informally as Camp No.
Warrick’s contention that “[a]t least two dozen other former and current detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere say they were given drugs against their will or witnessed other inmates being drugged, based on interviews and court documents,” led to movement in the otherwise glacial US Senate. Sens. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska), representing the Senate’s Armed Services, Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, respectively, sent letters to “the CIA and Defense Department inspectors general calling for an investigation.” The senators said they were reacting to the March 2008 article in the Post, as well as other public reports, confirming the use of drugs on “detainees,” and indicated the controversy “warrant[ed] a thorough investigation.”
While it is unknown how the CIA replied, the Inspector General’s office at DoD began a probe. The final report, entitled “Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Mind-Altering Drugs to Facilitate Interrogations of Detainees,” was finally published September 23, 2009.
Kathleen Long, a spokeswoman at the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Truthout that the Committee received a copy of the September 2009 report, but it was marked as classified and she could not discuss the details. However, she was authorized to say that the OIG investigation “did not substantiate allegations” that mind altering drugs “were used for interrogation purposes” on detainees.
That still leaves a lot of questions. Reports have described the use of drugs for restraint of prisoners, facility control, as a condition of confinement, sedation during transport as well as use in interrogations. The use of drugs in mind control experiments, the purpose of which was to assess the effects of various controlled substances on the physical and psychological functioning of the individual, has been described by numerous authors, investigative journalists, Congressional committees and even (after decades of denial) the DoD.
The use of drugs for sedation or interrogations was raised in the May 10, 2005, Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo from Stephen Bradbury to then-CIA Senior Deputy Legal Council John Rizzo on the “Combined Use of Certain Techniques That May Be Used in the Interrogation of High-Value al-Qaeda Detainees.” Bradbury noted that the OLC’s advice pertained only to interrogations and not “to conditions of confinement or detention, as distinct from the interrogation of detainees.” He notes that the CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS) rules allow the sedation of detainees during transportation. Even so, Bradbury writes that OMS reported they were “unaware” of the use of sedating drugs in the transport of detainees during the prior two years. This appears to be an admission that they were aware of such practices prior to May 2003. Bradbury told the CIA, “We caution that any use of sedatives should be carefully evaluated,” referencing violations of US anti-torture law as an example.
Nearly three years before the Bradbury memo, OLC memos written by John Yoo, with assistance from Jay Bybee and David Addington, had allowed for the use of mind-altering drugs in interrogations, maintaining such use was not torture unless it caused “permanent” or “profound” mental harm or damage. In 2006, when the new version of the Army Field Manual (AFM) on human intelligence collection was approved, it allowed an even less stringent ban on the use of drugs than Yoo had envisioned, dropping the OLC prohibition against use of drugs that could cause “profound mental harm,” a standard that could be met, according to Yoo, by induction of even a brief psychotic episode. In the version of the AFM in force prior to 2006, any “chemically induced psychosis” was forbidden. In the new AFM, still currently in effect, only drugs used that cause permanent, lasting harm are not allowable for interrogation use.
While the letters from Senators Biden, Hagel and Levin called for both CIA and DoD inspector general investigations, it is not known if the CIA ever initiated such an in-house review. In 2008, the Senate Armed Services Committee undertook a detailed “Inquiry into the treatment of detainees in US custody,” with two public hearings and a publishedreport. Nevertheless, the committee’s report did not include an investigation of any abuse by involuntary drugging.
Meanwhile, key personnel working in DoD intelligence circles have a history of exploring or advocating the use of drugs in interrogations. In July 2003, the CIA, in conjunction with the Rand Corporation and the American Psychological Association (APA) conducted a workshop entitled “Science of Deception: Integration of Practice and Theory.” The proceedings included a discussion on new ways to utilize drugs and sensory bombardment techniques to break down individuals under interrogation. Links to the description of this workshop have recently been scrubbed at APA’s web site. The meeting included the participation of DoD personnel and was co-organized by APA’s former senior scientist, Susan Brandon. Dr. Brandon is today research chief for the Behavioral Science Program within the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC). A recent report by Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic described the DCHC as providing “intelligence operatives and interrogators…. [performing] interrogations for a sub-unit of Task Force 714, an elite counter-terrorism brigade.”
When the Washington Post story broke in 2008, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) publicly called for Congressional and Department of Justice investigations of the allegations of drugging detainees, noting that some of these abuses may also have involved forced medication “for therapeutic purposes” without informed consent. As one example of this sort of abuse, Brent Mickum, attorney for Abu Zubaydah, told Truthout that since Zubaydah was transferred to Guantanamo in 2006, he “has suffered upwards of 250 seizures due to the fact that he was treated and overdosed with Haldol. On two occasions I went down there to meet with him he was in no position to talk to me.”
Soon after the Post story appeared, then-President of PHR, Leonard Rubenstein (currently a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) stated, “The forced medication of detainees without their consent, either for interrogation or as a chemical restraint, is an affront to the very foundations of medical ethics…. Even if used for purportedly therapeutic purposes, absent very exceptional circumstances, detainees have a right to consent to modes of treatment, just as others do and the Department of Defense has indeed recognized this right.”
“The Man in the Snow White Cell”
Last month, a government panel investigating interrogation techniques – the shadowy Intelligence Science Board, which has been linked to the creation under the Obama administration of the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG – had one of their teaching papers posted online at Secrecy News. Entitled “Intelligence Interviewing: Teaching Papers and Case Studies,” the April 2009 study, ostensibly discussing the problems with getting good intelligence from coercive interrogations (i.e., torture), had no problem with one scenario that utilized severe isolation and sensory deprivation to loosen up a prisoner. The case is well-known to intelligence professionals and is known as “The Man in the Snow White Cell”:
In early 1972, [Nguyen] Tai [“the most senior North Vietnamese officer ever captured during the Vietnam War”] was informed he was being taken to another location to be interrogated by the Americans. After being blindfolded, he was transported by car to an unknown location and placed in a completely sealed cell that was painted all in white, lit by bright lights 24 hours a day and cooled by a powerful air-conditioner (Tai hated air conditioning, believing, like many Vietnamese, that cool breezes could be poisonous). Kept in total isolation, Tai lived in this cell, designed to keep him confused and disoriented, for three years without learning where he was.
Tai’s interrogation began anew….
Without doubt, the South Vietnamese torture gave Tai the incentive for the limited cooperation he gave to his American interrogators, but it was the skillful questions and psychological ploys of the Americans and not any physical infliction of pain, that produced the only useful (albeit limited) information that Tai ever provided. [Emphasis added.]
The ISB analysts never mention the deleterious effects that three years of psychological torture may have produced in the prisoner. It is indicative of the way in which psychological forms of torture have been buried in the public’s consciousness in lieu of preoccupation with more physical forms of torture, such as waterboarding.
Long ago, the CIA and military discovered that the use of physical methods of torture tended to cause more resistance, or too quickly broke down the prisoner and made him insensible. So, they studied and implemented a more psychological method that relied primarily on isolation, sensory deprivation or overload, sleep deprivation and induction of debility. The introduction of brutal “enhanced interrogation techniques,” reverse-engineered from the “Resistance to Interrogation” classes of the SERE schools, were never totally accepted by the intelligence community and may have had more to do with experimental protocols still only dimly understood than with any expected production of operational intelligence.
DoD Review: Guantanamo Medical Records Shared With Interrogators
One intriguing outcome from the DoD drugging investigation was a “Review of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Inclusion of Detainee Mental Health Information in Intelligence Information Reports,” issued May 2010. A short summary of this review appears in Appendix G, “Detailed Summary Agency Oversight” of the July 30, 2010, report to Congress by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. According to Long, the Senate Armed Services Committee has not been briefed on this report.
The investigation into use of mental health information in intelligence reports at Guantanamo had, as its initial public objective, whether interrogators and analysts were considering detainee mental health as “an indicator of reliability” when determining “reliability and accuracy of information” obtained through interrogations. By the time the investigation was completed in May of this year, the issue had become one of confusion over guidelines and procedures at Guantanamo over the sharing of medical information between health care personnel and interrogators. If nothing else, the recent report demonstrates that interrogations and examinations of detainees remain an ongoing issue at Guantanamo, even as it widely assumed that much of the focus on new intelligence has shifted to the interrogations at Bagram Air Base or DoD black site prisons in Afghanistan.
Controversies over the use of private medical and mental health information and records of detainees by interrogators in the prisons at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere were aired in medical journals going back some years. In the July 7, 2005, article “Doctors and Interrogators at Guantanamo Bay,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine, M. Gregg Bloche and Jonathan H. Marks warned against doctors and other medical personnel crossing the line between caregiver and interrogator. Such breaches of privacy would violate the privacy of medical and mental health treatment for the supposed benefit of the interrogator, some of whom use the information to inform their anxiety and fear-based approach to interrogation.
Clinical expertise has a limited place in the planning and oversight of lawful interrogation. Psychologists play such a role in criminal investigations and medical monitoring of detainees is called for by international legal instruments. But proximity of health professionals to interrogation settings, even when they act as caregivers, carries risk. It may invite interrogators to be more aggressive, because they imagine that these professionals will set needed limits. The logic of caregiver involvement as a safeguard also risks pulling health professionals in ever more deeply. Once caregivers share information with interrogators, why should they refrain from giving advice about how to best use the data?
Responding to the controversy around sharing medical records described in the Marks and Bloche article, a few weeks after the NEJM article was published, then-Army Surgeon Gen. Kevin Kiley assured the press that there was a “firewall” between interrogators and members of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) that work with the interrogators and medical records. Whatever the practice, the 2005 Standard Operating Procedure for the BSCTs at that time shows that while the BSCTs were to act as liaisons between interrogators and Guantanamo medical personnel, describing “the implications of medical diagnoses and treatment for the interrogation process,” it is clearly stated, “Neither BSCT personnel and interrogation teams have access to medical records of detainees.” Medical information coming from Guantanamo’s Joint Medical Group is limited to physical, medical and functional limitations “required to consider in order to ensure the safety of the detainee and US personnel, e.g. diabetes, heart condition, special diet or contagious condition.”
According to a communication from Stephen Soldz, the 2006 BSCT directives, “while establishing controls on use of medical records, made it clear that these records could be accessed for national security purposes. Thus, any firewalls could potentially be breached.” So, it is not surprising to hear that the May 2010 inspector general review of Joint Task Force Guantanamo on use of detainee medical records reports that, under the Obama administration, sharing of such records with interrogators is commonplace, the subject of shabby oversight ten years after the opening of the prison site:
Present regulatory guidance authorizes health-care providers to share detainee medical information with interrogators, but does not provide specific guidance on how to do so. As a result execution of these policies at Guantanamo has been inconsistent , resulting in confusion for both health-care providers and interrogation elements. [Emphasis added.]
Such confusion is not accidental. Oversight means that things that aren’t supposed to happen are in fact kept under some kind of control. Given the ongoing controversies about medical information being shared, it is important that, as part of a clear and open investigation of procedures at Guantanamo and other detainee prison sites, that the public be given an understanding of exactly what type of information is in those medical records and of what benefit such information might be to interrogators, the better to understand how such information might be abused and whether rules and procedures for the legal and ethical use of medical information are truly followed.
Nathaniel Raymond, director of PHR’s Campaign Against Torture, said “the American people will not know whether those standards were enforced properly unless there is complete transparency about what was done or not done in our name.”
“One classified Inspector General’s report does little to answer the disturbing questions raised by government documents, news reports and the statements of detainees themselves,” Raymond told Truthout in an interview.
For all its rules and Standard Operating Procedures, Guantanamo remains a lawless place, where maltreatment of prisoners continues and torture is by no means a banished evil. The continuation of Appendix Minterrogations at the facility, steeped in techniques such as isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation and creation of strong fear, guarantees that abuse continues.
Because this is happening under a Democratic Party administration, oversight by former critics of the Bush administration – especially in Congress – is muted, for fear of tarnishing the reputation of the Democratic Party. That’s one major reason these stories are not being reported. No one is bothering to look, for fear of what they might find. Hence, no major investigations either, at least not for public consumption.