Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Exposé: Gitmo Detainees Mass Recipients of Controversial Drug

Cross-posted from Firedoglake

Jason Leopold and I have written an investigatory report for Truthout on the mass administration of the controversial antimalarial drug mefloquine (brand name Lariam) to all Guantanamo detainees through 2005. The drug was applied without regard to whether or not a detainee had malaria, and despite the fact there was no malaria in Guantanamo.

Mefloquine has been a controversial drug since it received FDA approval in 1989, as evidence grows regarding its neurotoxicity and propensity to cause very serious neuropsychiatric side effects. "Adverse events" associated with mefloquine include depression, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, intense rage, paranoia, hallucinations and anxiety. An Army public health physician told us that use of the drug was akin to "pharmacologic waterboarding."

The article has evidently struck a nerve with DoD and/or members of Congress, as one of the key documents in our story, a September 2002 letter from Deputy Secretary of Defense William Winkenwerder to the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was scrubbed from government servers. The original PDF URL was If you click there now, unlike just a day ago, you get a message "the page cannot be found." The document itself is still available through Google docs cache, and is also being posted at Truthout servers.

Winkenwerder's letter notes that "malaria is not a problem at Guantanamo," and makes other statements that undermine DoD's insistence that treating hundreds of detainees presumptively with a treatment dose of mefloquine was a mere public health measure.

What does mefloquine do to people? Here's some testimony gathered by the website, which is a treasure trove of information on the drug:
"After taking Lariam ... I [developed] rapid heartbeat, paranoia, and panic. I have since had episodes of severe panic, depression, sleep disturbances, shaking, flushing and feeling of foreboding ... This is by far the worst thing that has ever happened to me. The psychotic episodes were nearly unbearable."
"I was not warned of the dangerous side effects ... ended up in a mental hospital by the end of the trip because no one could explain my manic behavior. My brother flew down from the States to get me because I called home several times stating that my boyfriend was trying to drug me and kill me."
"I served in Somalia in 1993 for 5 months. I took Lariam once a week for the entire tour. That was 8 years ago. I have been diagnosed with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] by the VA and received 100% disability. I have attempted suicide 10 times and have shot myself twice. I suffer from severe depression. I learned about Lariam on the Internet about 3 years ago but was just too depressed to do anything about it."
And this is what they were giving to the detainees? The primary story is out for all to read, and it is my hope that this will help lift the lid off the secrecy that still permeates U.S. government torture of the "war on terror" detainees. A Seton Hall report, "Drug Abuse? An Exploration of the Government's Use of Mefloquine at Guantanamo," will be released in the next day or two, and will expand on the legal repercussions of using this dangerous drug on detainees.

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