Evidence Grows of Drug Use on Detainees
By Jeff Stein, CQ National Security Editor
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.
Another window opened on the practice last week with the declassification of John Yoo’s instantly infamous 2003 memo approving harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects.
Yoo advised top Bush administration officials that interrogators could employ mind-altering drugs if they did not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.”
Yoo had first rationalized the use of drugs in a 2002 memo for top Bush administration officials.
But this latest revelation shows Yoo reiterating conditions on the use of drugs a year later, despite the rising resistance to harsh interrogation techniques by military lawyers and the FBI.
“The new Yoo memo, along with other White House legal memoranda, shows clearly that the policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs was being laid,” says Stephen Miles, a University of Minnesota bioethicist and author of “Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror.” “The recent memo on mood-altering drugs does not extend previous work on this area,” he said. “The use of these drugs was anticipated and discussed in the memos of January and February 2002 by DoD, DoJ, and White House counsel using the same language and rationale. The executive branch memos laid a comprehensive and reiterated policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs.”
“Yes, I believe they have been used,” Jeffrey S. Kaye, a clinical psychologist who works with torture victims at Survivors International in San Francisco, told me.
“I came across some evidence that they were using mind-altering drugs, to regress the prisoners, to ascertain if they were using deception techniques, to break them down,” said Kaye.
Yet the situation remains unclear.
No ‘Truth Serums’
The Pentagon’s use of sedatives to help calm shackled and hooded prisoners during long “rendition” flights from the Middle East to Guantanamo has been widely reported,
But hard evidence that U.S. interrogators today are employing hallucinogens, like the LSD the CIA tested on unwitting subjects for at least 20 years beginning in the 1940s, has yet to surface.
Michael Caruso, the chief federal defender appointed to represent al Qaeda suspect Jose Padilla, asserted in a motion last year that his client “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 he could offer no proof.
It could have been a placebo. A 1963 CIA interrogation manual, code-named KUBARK, advocated the use of placebos, as well as the real thing, on prisoners.
But Michael Gellers, a psychologist with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at Guantanamo, who had objected to harsh interrogation methods, told me “he never saw anything related to drugs.”
“I never saw that raised as an issue,” he said.
In any case, hallucinogens don’t make subjects “tell the truth.”
“Their function is to cause capitulation, to aid in the shift from resistance to cooperation,” the KUBARK manual explains.
Yet there is tantalizing evidence that the use of such drugs since 9/11 has been, at a minimum, seriously contemplated, if not implemented.
On July 17-18, 2003, for example, the CIA, the RAND Corp. and the American Psychological Association hosted a workshop entitled the “Science of Deception: Integration of Practice and Theory.”
One session focused on the question, “What pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?”
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, top Bush administration officials pushed military commanders for intelligence about any other impending attacks, as Philippe Sands, an international lawyer at the firm Matrix Chambers and a professor at University College London, details in a forthcoming piece in Vanity Fair.
Sands demonstrates that the offending interrogations weren’t conducted by a few bad apples, as the White House and Pentagon have long maintained.
They were reacting to pressure from above, to go to “the dark side” and “take the gloves off,” as Vice President Cheney put it.
But they didn’t know how, December 2006 study by the Intelligence Science Board, a wing of the National Defense Intelligence College in Washington, D.C., suggested.
Under pressure, interrogators started to “‘make it up’ on the fly,” the study said.
“This shortfall in advanced, research-based interrogation methods,” it said, “at a time of intense pressure from operational commanders to produce actionable intelligence from high-value targets may have contributed significantly to the unfortunate cases of abuse that have recently come to light.”
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, the staff judge advocate at Guantanamo, who tried to throttle the excesses, told Vanity Fair that prison officials and interrogation managers drew inspiration from Jack Bauer, the fictional action-hero of FOX’s counterterror drama, “24,” who uses torture and drugs on terrorists.
“It was hugely popular,” Beaver said. Jack Bauer “gave people lots of ideas.”
Beaver makes no mention of drugs in the piece.
She may not have seen or heard about their use, says Ewe Jacobs, the director of Survivors International, which specializes in the psychological and medical treatment of torture survivors.
“The Guantanamo camps were isolated from one another,” he says.
FBI interrogators and naval investigators, fearing involvement in illegal acts, were told to leave the island.
Professor Miles says, “I suspect that most of the use of interrogational drugs was by CIA and Special Ops interrogators, and thus still remains classified.”
We just don’t know — yet.
The CIA kept its MKULTRA, a mind-control and chemical interrogation research program, and other drug-testing programs secret for more than 20 years.
In the early 1970s, when then-CIA Director Richard Helms got wind of congressional investigators sniffing around, he ordered its records destroyed — a precursor of the agency’s recent destruction of interrogation videotapes.
But it turned out that Helms missed a box.
A disenchanted State Department official, John D. Marks, who had resigned over Vietnam, got hold of the remaining files and produced an astonishing book, “The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control.”
Many more books, some by persons who said they were victims of the mind-altering experiments, were produced.
Few believed them. Their tales sounded looney absent patient records (which Helms had ordered destroyed) of the drug experiments (many carried out in a secret wing of Georgetown University Hospital).
Likewise, few believe Padilla. Even fewer will believe the other prisoners, a number of whom are deranged from prolonged interrogation — if they ever get out.
We may never know the truth.
Jeff Stein can be reached at [email protected].