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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 terrorist supporter 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 held by the US government in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan have alleged in news reports and in court documents they took pills against their will or were forcibly injected with unknown substances that had mind-altering effects 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.

But the inspector general’s investigation was unable to substantiate any of the allegations that, as a matter of government policy, detainees were given mind-altering drugs “to facilitate interrogation.”

However, 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 attorney of the Guantanamo Project at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said what struck him after he read the report 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 said.

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.

Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Defense Department spokesman, said, “while it is true that the [inspector general’s] report discusses that certain medications may be administered to detainees without their consent, it is the call of the doctor treating the detainee as to whether to administer the drug.”

Rubenstein, however, 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.”

Breasseale 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.

Investigative Gaps

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 that confirms the suggestion. (pg. 18-13)

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 said, “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 DoD’s 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.

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