May 2008: Detainees Allege Being Drugged During Interrogations 

The use of “mind-altering substances” on prisoners was banned for decades in the U.S. But in April 2008, two reports alleged that psychotropic drugs were being used as an “enhancement” for interrogations. Jeff Stein reported in Congressional Quartely:

“There can be little doubt now that the government has used drugs on terrorist suspects that are designed to weaken their resistance to interrogation. All that’s missing is the syringes and videotapes. A window opened on the practice with the declassification of John Yoo’s instantly infamous 2003 memo approving harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects.” (CIA Drug Assisted Interrogations, April 4, 2008)

Joby Warrick of The Washington Post reported that

“At least two dozen… former and current detainees at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere say they were given drugs against their will or witnessed other inmates being drugged, based on interviews and court documents.” (Detainees Alleged Being Drugged, April 22, 2008)

Officials at the Defense Department and the CIA denied the allegations calling them “fabrications.” Why then, did the Justice Department issue a legal opinion memo in March 2003 giving the green light for the use of mind altering drugs?

Following the report in The Washington Post, a written request by senior Senators for an investigation led the Defense Department (DoD) Inspector General (IG) to investigate whether DoD had a policy authorizing “the use of mind-altering drugs to facilitate interrogations.” Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Mind-Altering Drugs to Facilitate Interrogations of Detainees, 2009; suppressed until 2012) Though the IG investigation did not find evidence of an authorizing policy for the use of mind-altering drugs “to facilitate interrogation,” the investigation confirmed that mind-altering drugs, such as the antipsychotic Haldol were used during interrogations; that detainees were subjected to “chemical restraints;” and hydrated with intravenous (IV) fluids while being interrogated:

“between November 24,2002, and January 3, 2003…several detainees received psychoactive drugs on a regular and continuing basis in order to treat behavioral health issues. In some cases, these drugs had to be forcibly administered… psychoactive drugs [ ] could impair an individual’s ability to provide accurate information. We also observed that certain detainees… being treated with psychoactive medications on a continuing basis were interrogated while under the effects of the medication.”

“In some cases we were able to correlate a detainee’s allegation of forced drugging with a particular medical treatment. For example, Detainee IG-03 5 claimed that he was frequently administered IV solutions during interrogation. During a 2003 administrative review board hearing, IG-03 stated that he was “forcibly given frequent IVs many times a day by medical personnel during interrogation, which felt like repetitive stabs and this happened on a daily basis. Medical personnel were involved in carrying out these methods used in interrogations.” (p. 3-4)

Several detainees said that the medical team administering the shots were routinely accompanied by specially equipped guards, known as the “Immediate Reaction Force” to subdue anyone who resisted. Investigative reporter, Jeffrey Kaye, a licensed psychologist obtained the DoD IG report two years after submitting a Freedom of Information request. In his article in TruthOut,  co-authored by Jason Leopold, attorneys, medical ethicists, a former Guantanamo guard quotes Leonard Rubenstein, a medical ethicist at Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights and the former president of Physicians for Human Rights, who stated:

“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. 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.”

“The use of drugs as a form of restraint of prisoners is both unlawful and unethical. These allegations demand a full inquiry by Congress and the Department of Justice.”

Scott Allen, a physician and co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights in Providence, R.I, noted that there are no accepted medical standards for the use of drugs to subjugate prisoners. Therefore, any such use in interrogations “would have to be considered an experimental use of medicine.”

“Even the existence of an involuntary medication program raises troubling ethical issues.The involvement of physicians and other health professionals in such a program would be a profound betrayal of medical trust and needs to be investigated further.” (Joby Warrick. Detainees Allege Being Drugged, Questioned, 2008)

An attorney questioned the rationale of drugging prisoners to obtain information: “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.”

J. Wells Dixon, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents detainees, said the government appears to have administered drugs to detainees whose extended captivity made them distraught or rebellious. “Many of these men have become desperately suicidal. And the government’s response has been to administer more medication, often without the consent of the prisoners.”

The Defense Department Inspector General did not review the medical records that were kept by the Behavioral Science Consultant Teams (BSCT) who maintained a “restricted database” of medical records in which they recorded their assessment of a detainees’ physical and psychological weaknesses and designed individualized interrogation protocols accordingly. The existence of a second set of medical records was noted by the Army Surgeon General Kevin Kiley’s report (2005) on the medical treatment of detainees in the various Guantanamo, Afghanistan. He indicated that, while BSCTs were not

“medically credentialed at GTMO, and did not provide any medical services…The BSCT personnel did not document the medical condition of detainees in the medical record, but [they] did keep a restricted database which provided medical information on detainees.” (p. 18-13)

The Inspector General report pointed to instances in which top military officials had discussed introducing “truth” drugs during interrogations. At an October 2, 2002 meeting of the Guantanamo interrogation command and legal staff the use of “truth serum” was discussed. And the Washington Post notes that though relatively little is known publicly about the treatment of CIA detainees, the use of drugs by the CIA was discussed during a 2004 internal investigation conducted by the inspector general for coalition forces in Afghanistan. The Inspector General report specifically excluded prisoners held by the CIA which has had a long and ignoble history of psychotropic drug abuse.