Center for Strategic Communication

U.S. Army soldiers inside a cell block at Camp Five at the Joint Task Force Guantanamo detention center on Nov. 14, 2006. Photo: Army

Prisoners inside the U.S. military’s detention center at Guantanamo Bay were forcibly given “mind altering drugs,” including being injected with a powerful anti-psychotic sedative used in psychiatric hospitals. Prisoners were often not told what medications they received, and were tricked into believing routine flu shots were truth serums. It’s a serious violation of medical ethics, made worse by the fact that the military continued to interrogate prisoners while they were doped on psychoactive chemicals.

That’s according to a recently declassified report (.pdf) from the Pentagon’s inspector general, obtained by Truthout‘s Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold after a Freedom of Information Act Request. In it, the inspector general concludes that “certain detainees, diagnosed as having serious mental health conditions being treated with psychoactive medications on a continuing basis, were interrogated.” The report does not conclude, though, that anti-psychotic drugs were used specifically for interrogation purposes.

The only drug explicitly named in the report was Haldol, first marketed in the 1960s and still used today as a relatively cheap — and hard-boiled — anti-psychotic sedative in psychiatric hospitals (more commonly in emergency rooms). Haldol has declined since the widespread introduction of newer anti-psychiatric drugs in the 1990s.

Its side effects are not great. A full list would be too long to reproduce here, but they include depression, muscle contractions and suicidal behavior. A patient on Haldol can develop long-term movement disorders and life-threatening neurological disorders. There’s a possibility (though not common) of heart problems that can lead to sudden death.

Haldol’s main effect, though, is that it makes you really groggy. Now combine that with sleep deprivation and intense, fearful questioning. Brent Mickum, an attorney for detainee Abu Zubaydah, said Zubaydah was “routinely overdosed” with the drug, Truthout notes. (Zubaydah was also waterboarded 83 times in one month.)

The inspector general report also notes that one prisoner, listed in the report only as “IG-02,” was never given Haldol shots during interrogations, but was forced to take monthly injections as he was diagnosed as “schizophrenic and psychotic with borderline personality disorder.” Truthout identified the prisoner as Adel al-Nusairi, a former Guantanamo prisoner and former Saudi policeman who — after his release — claimed to have been forcibly “drugged and coerced into making confessions,” Kaye and Leopold write.

An unnamed detainee told the inspector general he was given unidentified red and blue pills while traveling to Guantanamo from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, in 2002. ”At the time they said it was some candy,” he said. After eating the “candy,” the prisoner said he felt like in a “state of delusion” for several days.

At least one detainee, so-called “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla was tricked into believing he was injected with a “truth serum” during an interrogation, possibly a form of LSD or PCP. In reality, it was a flu shot. Still, it’s a “serious breach of medical ethics,” Georgetown University law professor and health policy specialist Gregg Bloche told Truthout. “It undermines trust in military physicians and it’s an unfair insult to the integrity of the vast majority of military doctors, who quite rightly believe that this sort of thing is contrary to their professional obligation,” Bloche said.

The military’s response has been muted. A Pentagon spokesman refused to comment to Truthout as “doing so might not only compromise security,” but added that the military’s operating procedures “are ‘living’ documents, subject to regular change and updating.” The inspector general report noted comments from Guantanamo’s former medical commander that drugs were giving “to help control serious mental illnesses,” and that the practice was approved by an ethics committee.

But did they consent? (No.) Did the medics consult the prisoners’ medical background before administering drugs? Were prisoners still under the effect of the drugs during interrogation? The report concludes: very likely.

And what kind of confessions were interrogators receiving? They may not have been the most reliable, or truthful. Worse, men with serious mental disorders were given heavy sedatives, while interrogations continued. Not many medical professionals would call that treatment.