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DoD Report Confirms Interrogators Pulled “Deliberate Ruse” on Jose Padilla; Convinced Him Flu Shot Was “Truth Serum“
Jose Padilla at the Navy Consolidated Brig, Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo: Courtesy U.S. Navy)

DoD Report Confirms Interrogators Pulled “Deliberate Ruse” on Jose Padilla; Convinced Him Flu Shot Was “Truth Serum“

Jose Padilla at the Navy Consolidated Brig, Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo: Courtesy U.S. Navy)

In 2006, a lawyer for Jose Padilla, the accused dirty-bomb plotter, made an explosive claim in a federal court filing: the “enemy combatant” 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.”

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,” according to a declassified Department of Defense (DoD) inspector general’s report that probed the use of “mind-altering drugs” during the interrogation of war on terror detainees.

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.

The inspector general’s investigation determined that although Padilla was not administered mind-altering drugs (such as LSD), “the incorporation of a routine flu shot into an interrogation session … was a deliberate ruse by the interrogation team, intended to convince [redacted] he had been administered a mind-altering drug.”

Truthout obtained a copy of the report 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. (Read our in-depth story on the inspector general’s investigation here.)

The probe, which was initiated after the publication of a 2008 Washington Post report and a letter sent to the Department of Defense watchdog by Democratic lawmakers, 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 and raises important questions about the veracity of the intelligence interrogators gleaned from certain prisoners captured in the “war on terror.” The investigation found detainees were interrogated while drugged with powerful antipsychotic and other medications that “could impair an individual’s ability to provide accurate information,” subjected to “chemical restraints” and hydrated with intravenous fluids while they were being interrogated.

A section of the report focused on the alleged administration 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, which has mind-altering effects, 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 on “‘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 Padilla. 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 that the inspector general is referring to him

“We conducted an on-site examination of daily logs maintained by the security force of the brig and confirmed that [redacted] received an influenza immunization on December 5, 2002,” the report says. “We interviewed the Navy corpsman who described the process for preparing the vaccine and administering the immunization. The Navy corpsman stated that [redacted] did not complain of any post immunization reactions that might have been related to LSD or any other psychoactive drugs. However, the Navy corpsman stated that one of the interrogators instructed him not to inform [redacted] of the nature of the immunization.”

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, according to the inspector general’s report.

The inspector general’s office 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?”

Gregg Bloche, the author of the book “The Hippocratic Myth” and a 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. The government agency singled out by the inspector general responded to the conclusions, but it’s redacted from the report.

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 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.

Responding to the completion of the inspector general’s 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.

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