Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Support Call for Investigations on Drugging Detainees

Following a pivotal article by Jeff Stein at Congressional Quarterly a few weeks back, today's Washington Post published an important article today, "Detainees Allege Being Drugged, Questioned." The story, by Post staff writer Joby Warrick, notes U.S. denials in using drug injections for coercive purposes during interrogations.

Adel al-Nusairi, a Saudi national imprisoned for years at Guanatanmo, and now released without charges, has a different memory:
"I'd fall asleep" after the shot, Nusairi, a former Saudi policeman captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2002, recalled in an interview with his attorney at the military prison in Cuba, according to notes. After being roused, Nusairi eventually did talk, giving U.S. officials what he later described as a made-up confession to buy some peace.

"I was completely gone," he remembered. "I said, 'Let me go. I want to go to sleep. If it takes saying I'm a member of al-Qaeda, I will.'"
U.S. authorities at the Department of Defense and the CIA say the stories of prisoners being forced to take drugs and make confessions are lies, or perhaps mistaken interpretations of various medical procedures. The Post article, which mentions the March 2003 John Yoo memo to the Department of Defense that gave legal cover to abusive interrogation methods, including the use of drugs on detainees, fails to mention that the CIA and military studied the use of drugs in interrogations for decades. Still, the Post article makes clear that drugs have been alleged to have been used on U.S.-held detainees for purposes of forcing confessions, as chemical restraint, and to forcibly psychologically condition detainees for interrogation.
Medical ethicists and experts in international law say such accounts raise serious questions. While the Geneva Conventions do not specifically refer to drugs, they ban any use of force or coercion in interrogating prisoners of war, said Barbara Olshansky, a law professor at Stanford University and the author of a book on military tribunals. "If you're talking about interrogations, you're talking about very specific prohibitions that mean you cannot use any force, at all, to interrogate someone," Olshansky said. "The law is beyond clear."
Physicians for Human Rights has called for both Congressional and Department of Justice investigations on the forcible drugging of detainees. This may be a good time, too, to support the ACLU's call for the release of a Justice Department Office of Inspector General report on a long-running investigation of the FBI's role in the unlawful interrogations of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. It's believed that "FBI agents stationed at Guantánamo Bay expressed concern after witnessing military interrogators' use of brutal interrogation techniques." Did these techniques include the forcible drugging of detainees?

Investigations Needed, Though Much Information in Public Domain

Investigations are urgently needed to get the full picture of what exactly the government has been up to, as the full extent of the manifold use of torture by the United States government has not been fully documented. Such investigations are also sorely needed to change the political dialogue in this country, and to hold accountable government officials who have broken domestic and international law on torture and the treatment of prisoners.

If the press would do their job and report the known research and give the proper context on this subject, then the work of the investigators would be much easier. (Jeff Klein's work, noted at the beginning of this article, is a notable exception. Other exceptions are Katherine Eban at Vanity Fair, Jane Meyer at The New Yorker, Scott Horton at Harper's, and Mark Benjamin at The use of drugs in interrogations is not a new subject by any means. The government has researched this, including mixing drugs with other forms of coercive interrogation practice, such as sensory deprivation.

A Course in Narcosis, Part I

Online, I suggest the interested reader -- or Congressional or DOJ investigator -- begin with the CIA's own discussion of the matter in the declassified KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual. Here's some relevant quotes from the CIA on "narcosis" (if this website link is having problems, as it did when I went to reference it, use this cached link instead, or this alternate site, or the photocopy online of the manual itself). Bold emphasis in the following is mine. Remember, this "course" in narcosis was researched with U.S. taxpayer dollars. The CIA drew upon the work of the infamous MKULTRA program of the CIA.
Just as the threat of pain may more effectively induce compliance than its infliction, so an interrogatee's mistaken belief that he has been drugged may make him a more useful interrogation subject than he would be under narcosis....

In the interrogation situation, moreover, the effectiveness of a placebo may be enhanced because of its ability to placate the conscience. The subject's primary source of resistance to confession or divulgence may be pride, patriotism, personal loyalty to superiors, or fear of retribution if he is returned to their hands. Under such circumstances his natural desire to escape from stress by complying with the interrogator's wishes may become decisive if he is provided an acceptable rationalization for compliance. "I was drugged" is one of the best excuses.

Drugs are no more the answer to the interrogator's prayer than the polygraph, hypnosis, or other aids. Studies and reports "dealing with the validity of material extracted from reluctant informants... indicate that there is no drug which can force every informant to report all the information he has. Not only may the inveterate criminal psychopath lie under the influence of drugs which have been tested, but the relatively normal and well-adjusted individual may also successfully disguise factual data"....

Nevertheless, drugs can be effective in overcoming resistance not dissolved by other techniques. As has already been noted, the so-called silent drug (a pharmacologically potent substance given to a person unaware of its administration) can make possible the induction of hypnotic trance in a previously unwilling subject....

Particularly important is the reference to matching the drug to the personality of the interrogatee. The effect of most drugs depends more upon the personality of the subject than upon the physical characteristics of the drugs themselves. If the approval of Headquarters has been obtained and if a doctor is at hand for administration, one of the most important of the interrogator's functions is providing the doctor with a full and accurate description of the psychological make-up of the interrogatee, to facilitate the best possible choice of a drug.

Persons burdened with feelings of shame or guilt are likely to unburden themselves when drugged, especially if these feelings have been reinforced by the interrogator. And like the placebo, the drug provides an excellent rationalization of helplessness for the interrogatee who wants to yield but has hitherto been unable to violate his own values or loyalties.

Like other coercive media, drugs may affect the content of what an interrogatee divulges. Gottschalk notes that certain drugs "may give rise to psychotic manifestations such as hallucinations, illusions, delusions, or disorientation", so that "the verbal material obtained cannot always be considered valid." (7) For this reason drugs (and the other aids discussed in this section) should not be used persistently to facilitate the interrogative debriefing that follows capitulation. Their function is to cause capitulation, to aid in the shift from resistance to cooperation. Once this shift has been accomplished, coercive techniques should be abandoned both for moral reasons and because they are unnecessary and even counter-productive.

This discussion does not include a list of drugs that have been employed for interrogation purposes or a discussion of their properties because these are medical considerations within the province of a doctor rather than an interogator [sic].
A Course in Narcosis, Part II

If we go back and look at the Washington Post article printed today, we see that the reaction of the detainees who were (allegedly) drugged is replete with traumatic feelings. One wonders if the giving of injections rather than pills was psychologically designed to create greater fear in the prisoners.

The CIA's reference to Gottschalk is to Louis A. Gottschalk. At the time (early 60s), Gottschalk was Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Research Coordinator in the Department of Psychiatry at Cincinnati General Hospital. His essay, "The Use of Drugs in Interrogation" was published in the 1961 book, The Manipulation of Human Behavior. (Online via Questia, for some time this book could be read for free over the net at, but that link is gone now. The Questia read will cost you about $8.00 -- worth it in my opinion, though enterprising web surfers may find it elsewhere for less or free, for all I know.)

In Gottschalk's piece, he looks at such aspects of drug use in interrogation as the use of placebo administration; the effects of individual differences in personality and cerebral functions on drug reaction; the effects of physiological conditions, secondary to manipulation of biological rhythms, nutritional states, isolation and fatigue; and the efficacy of drugs in "uncovering information." Regarding the latter, Gottschalk wrote:
For certain personality types, some drugs lower conscious ego control, thereby facilitating recall of repressed material and increasing the difficulty of withholding available information....

... clinical experience and experimental studies indicate that, although a person's resistance to communicating consciously withheld information can be broken down with drugs, and particularly sodium amytal, the interrogator can have no easy assurance as to the accuracy and validity of the information he obtains.... An interrogator would have to evaluate many other factors... to decide how to interpret the outcome of an interview with a drugged informant.
Besides sodium amytal, Gottschalk and other government researchers (from the military, CIA, contracted or unwittingly funded) studied numerous pharmacological agents, including barbiturate sedatives and calmatives (amobarbital, secobarbital), non-barbiturate sedatives (Placidyl, Quiactin), stimulants (ritalin, benzadrine, and methamphetamine, the latter said to be "useful in the interrogation of the psychopath"), autonomic reactors and beta blockers, antimalarial drugs, heavy metals, hormones (ACTH, cortisone, thyroid), and classic hallucinogens like mescaline, LSD and PCP. Marijuana was also an early target of drug experiments on truth telling. Psychoactive medications have (or are?) been studied as well (thorazine, compazine, etc.).

Thorazine was also used heavily by Dr. Ewen Cameron, the famous Montreal psychiatrist, whose attempt to totally control the human mind via a technique called "psychic driving" destroyed many people's lives in the 1950s and 1960s. Cameron used drug-induced coma, multiple electroshock, and drugs like thorazine and LSD in an effort to totally control human beings, from their memory (which he sought to wipe out) and their behavior. The research was funded, in part, by the CIA. The story has been told in all its horrendous detail a number of times, most recently by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine, and by researcher Gordon Thomas in his new book, Secrets and Lies.


While the Washington Post article demonstrates some movement among the official elite who run this country to address the latest revelations on torture, perhaps even to promote some kind of reform inside the Pentagon and CIA, it's also possible that official denials are all we are going to hear.

It's important that the calls from organizations like Physicians for Human Rights for hearings and investigations be supported by phone calls, letters, emails, and donations. The Yoo memo and other issues related to torture are supposed to be examined at a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee on May 9. Why not bring up the issue of involuntary drugging as part of that hearing? In any case, a full investigation is needed of U.S. torture. In my opinion, the government cannot be trusted to run this investigation. But, lacking any other authoritative forum, a Congressional investigation may be the best we can hope for at this point.

On this topic, with a special emphasis on the possible role of psychologists and other health professionals in these interrogation abuses, see Stephen Soldz's article, "Involuntary drugging of US detainees, a crisis for the health professions".

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