Government Report on Drugging of Detainees Is Suppressed

Tuesday, 14 September 2010 13:35 By Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report | name.

Government Report on Drugging of Detainees Is Suppressed
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: mike.benedetti, Dirty Bunny)

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 Post exposé 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.

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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 published report. 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 M interrogations 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.

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 September 2010 09:44