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Context of 'April 21, 2008: Guantanamo Detainees Claim to Have Been Drugged While in Custody'

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Adel al-Nusairi, a Saudi Arabian police officer, is captured in Afghanistan and eventually sent to the US detention facility at Guantanamo. Al-Nusairi will recall that he is interrogated for hours on end, but only after being injected with some form of drug. “I’d fall asleep” after the shots, he will tell his attorney, Anant Raut, in 2005. After he is awakened, he is interrogated in marathon questioning sessions, where, he later claims, he gives false information in order to be left alone. “I was completely gone,” he will recall. “I said, ‘Let me go. I want to go to sleep. If it takes saying I’m a member of al-Qaeda, I will.’” After years of captivity, al-Nusairi is eventually returned to Saudi Arabia without being charged with a crime; he never learns what kind of drugs he was subjected to while in US custody. He believes he was given drugs in order to coerce him into making statements that would implicate him in terrorist activity. Raut will later recall: “They thought he was hiding something. He 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.” Al-Nusairi will recall one interrogation session in an ice-cold room where he is so cold and desperate for sleep that he signs a confession testifying to his involvement in al-Qaeda. According to al-Nusairi, the interrogator watched him sign his name, and “then he smiled and turned off the air conditioner. And I went to sleep.” Al-Nusairi is held for three years more until he is abruptly returned to Saudi custody and released. Raut will later muse, “He signed the statement, and they declared him an enemy combatant, yet they released him anyway with no explanation.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Anant Raut, Adel al-Nusairi, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Tarek Dergoul is forcefully injected with a sedative, shortly before being put on the plane from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. [Observer, 5/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Tarek Dergoul

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

David Brant, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), approaches Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora about the abuse of detainees in US custody at Guantanamo, abuse perhaps authorized at a “high level” in Washington. Brant is in charge of a team of NCIS agents working with the FBI at Guantanamo, called the Criminal Investigative Task Force. The task force’s job is to obtain incriminating information from the detainees for use in future trials or tribunals.
Troubling Information - Brant has learned troubling information about the interrogations at Guantanamo (see Early December, 2002). Brant had never discussed anything so sensitive with Mora before, and later recalls, “I wasn’t sure how he would react.” Brant had already discussed the allegations of abuse with Army officials, since they have command authority over the detainees, and to Air Force officials as well, but goes to Mora after deciding that no one in either branch seems to care. He is not hopeful that Mora will feel any differently.
Worried about Abuse - Brant goes to Mora because, he will recall, he didn’t want his investigators to “in any way observe, condone, or participate in any level of physical or in-depth psychological abuse. No slapping, deprivation of water, heat, dogs, psychological abuse. It was pretty basic, black and white to me.… I didn’t know or care what the rules were that had been set by the Department of Defense at that point. We were going to do what was morally, ethically, and legally permissible.” Brant had ordered his task force members to “stand clear and report” any abusive tactics that they might witness.
Mora 'Rocked' - Brant is not disappointed in Mora’s reactions. A military official who works closely with Brant will later recall that the news “rocked” Mora. The official will add that Mora “was visionary about this,” adding, “He quickly grasped the fact that these techniques in the hands of people with this little training spelled disaster.” Brant asks if Mora wants to hear more about the situation; Mora will write in a 2004 memo (see July 7, 2004), “I responded that I felt I had to.”
Second Meeting - Brant meets with Mora the next day, and shows Mora part of the transcript of the [Mohamed al-Khatani] interrogations. Mora is shocked when Brant tells him that the abuse was not “rogue activity,” but apparently sanctioned by the highest levels in the Bush administration. Mora will write in his memo, “I was under the opinion that the interrogation activities described would be unlawful and unworthy of the military services.” Mora will recall in a 2006 interview: “I was appalled by the whole thing. It was clearly abusive, and it was clearly contrary to everything we were ever taught about American values.” Shocked, Mora will learn more from his counterpart in the Army (see December 18, 2002), and determine that the abusive practices need to be terminated.
Meeting with Pentagon Lawyer - He will bring his concerns to the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, and will leave that meeting hopeful that Haynes will put an end to the extreme measures being used at Guantanamo (see December 20, 2002). But when Mora returns from Christmas vacation, he will learn that Haynes has done nothing. Mora will continue to argue against the torture of detainees (see Early January, 2003). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, David Brant, Alberto Mora, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Justice Department sends a legal memorandum to the Pentagon that claims federal laws prohibiting torture, assault, maiming, and other crimes do not apply to military interrogators questioning al-Qaeda captives because the president’s authority as commander in chief overrides the law. The 81-page memo, written by the Office of Legal Counsel’s John Yoo, is not publicly revealed for over five years (see April 1, 2008).
President Can Order Maiming, Disfigurement of Prisoners - Yoo writes that infractions such as slapping, shoving, and poking detainees do not warrant criminal liability. Yoo goes even farther, saying that the use of mind-altering drugs can be used on detainees as long as they do not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.” [John C. Yoo, 3/14/2003 pdf file; Washington Post, 4/2/2008] Yoo asks if the president can order a prisoner’s eyes poked out, or if the president could order “scalding water, corrosive acid or caustic substance” thrown on a prisoner. Can the president have a prisoner disfigured by slitting an ear or nose? Can the president order a prisoner’s tongue torn out or a limb permanently disabled? All of these assaults are noted in a US law prohibiting maiming. Yoo decides that no such restrictions exist for the president in a time of war; that law does not apply if the president deems it inapplicable. The memo contains numerous other discussions of various harsh and tortuous techniques, all parsed in dry legal terms. Those tactics are all permissible, Yoo writes, unless they result in “death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions.” Some of the techniques are proscribed by the Geneva Conventions, but Yoo writes that Geneva does not apply to detainees captured and accused of terrorism. [Washington Post, 4/6/2008]
'National Self-Defense' - Yoo asserts that the president’s powers as commander in chief supersede almost all other laws, even Constitutional provisions. “If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network,” Yoo writes. “In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.… Even if an interrogation method arguably were to violate a criminal statute, the Justice Department could not bring a prosecution because the statute would be unconstitutional as applied in this context.” Interrogators who harmed a prisoner are protected by a “national and international version of the right to self-defense.” He notes that for conduct during interrogations to be illegal, that conduct must “shock the conscience,” an ill-defined rationale that will be used by Bush officials for years to justify the use of waterboarding and other extreme interrogation methods. Yoo writes, “Whether conduct is conscience-shocking turns in part on whether it is without any justification,” explaining that that it would have to be inspired by malice or sadism before it could be prosecuted.
Memo Buttresses Administration's Justifications of Torture - The Justice Department will tell the Defense Department not to use the memo nine months later (see December 2003-June 2004), but Yoo’s reasoning will be used to provide a legal foundation for the Defense Department’s use of aggressive and potentially illegal interrogation tactics. The Yoo memo is a follow-up and expansion to a similar, though more narrow, August 2002 memo also written by Yoo (see August 1, 2002). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will suspend a list of aggressive interrogation techniques he had approved, in part because of Yoo’s memo, after an internal revolt by Justice Department and military lawyers (see February 6, 2003, Late 2003-2005 and December 2003-June 2004). However, in April 2003, a Pentagon working group will use Yoo’s memo to endorse the continued use of extreme tactics. [John C. Yoo, 3/14/2003 pdf file; Washington Post, 4/2/2008; New York Times, 4/2/2008]
Justice Department Claims Attorney General Knows Nothing of Memo - Yoo sends the memo to the Pentagon without the knowledge of Attorney General John Ashcroft or Ashcroft’s deputy, Larry Thompson, senior department officials will say in 2008. [Washington Post, 4/4/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo, Larry D. Thompson, Al-Qaeda, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Geneva Conventions, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The CIA’s inspector general conducts an internal investigation of the treatment of CIA detainees in Afghanistan. As part of that investigation, the use of drugs on detainees is raised. When the inspector interviews the commanding officer of a secret detention facility in eastern Afghanistan shared by US military and intelligence teams, the inspector asks if the “OGA”—an acronym standing for “other government agency” and used to refer to the CIA—had been able to “practice their TTP [tactics, techniques and procedures] at your facility.” The commander replies, “No, they can’t use drugs or prolonged sensory deprivation in our facility.” It is unclear whether the commander is referring to interrogations. A senior US official will say in 2008 that the commander’s mention of drugs was either a mistake or a reference to am agency other than the CIA. [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

The Washington Post reports that at least two dozen current and former detainees at Guantanamo Bay claim that they were given drugs against their will, or witnessed other inmates being drugged. These detainees believe that they were drugged in order to force confessions of terrorist ties from them (see 2002-2005). The CIA and the Defense Department deny using drugs in their interrogations, and suggest that such claims are either lies or mistaken interpretations of routine medical treatment.
Claims Bolstered by Justice Department Memo - But the claims are bolstered by the recent revelation of a 2003 Justice Department memo that explicitly condoned the use of drugs on detainees (see March 14, 2003). The memo, written by then-Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, reversed a decades-old US ban on the use of “mind-altering substances” on prisoners. Instead, Yoo wrote, drugs could indeed be used as long as they did not inflict permanent or “profound” psychological damage. US law “does not preclude any and all use of drugs,” Yoo wrote. The claims are also given weight by a 2004 statement from the commander of a detention facility in Afghanistan, who alluded to the CIA drugging detainees (see February 2004).
Drugging Detainees a Gross Violation of Anti-Torture Treaties - Legal experts and human rights groups are calling for a full accounting, including release of detailed prison medical records. They say that forcing drugs on detainees for non-medical reasons is a particularly serious violation of international treaties banning torture. Medical ethics expert Leonard Rubinstein, the president of Physicians for Human Rights, says: “The use of drugs as a form of restraint of prisoners is both unlawful and unethical. These allegations demand a full inquiry by Congress and the Department of Justice.” Scott Allen, the co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, says that there are no accepted medical standards for the use of drugs to interrogate or subjugate prisoners. Any such use “would have to be considered an experimental use of medicine.… The involvement of physicians and other health professionals in such a program would be a profound betrayal of medical trust and needs to be investigated further.” The Geneva Conventions do not specifically refer to drugs, but they ban any use of force or coercion in interrogating prisoners of war. Law professor Barbara Olshansky, the author of a book on military tribunals, says: “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. The law is beyond clear.”
Team of Guards Present - When inmates were injected or forced to take pills, former detainees claim, the personnel administering the drugs were always accompanied by a squad of specially equipped guards known as the “Immediate Reaction Force” to handle any possible violent reactions from the drugged inmates. One former detainee who was later released without charge, Ruhel Ahmed, recalls that the guards wore padded gear and “forced us to have injections.” Ahmed recalls, “You are not allowed to refuse it and you don’t know what it is for.” He says he was given about a dozen injections, which “had the effect of making me feel very drowsy.”
No Solid Evidence of Claims - No evidence of such drugging is known to the public, outside of detainee claims of effects from the injections that range from unnatural drowsiness to full-blown hallucinations. Former US intelligence officials have acknowledged giving sedatives to terror suspects before transporting them from one facility to another (see May 1, 2002). Former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora, who attempted without success to resist the Bush administration’s decision to use harsh interrogation tactics against detainees (see December 17-18, 2002), says he knows of no instances where detainees were drugged as part of their questioning. However, he adds, the detainees “knew they were being injected with something, and it is clear from all accounts that some suffered severe psychological damage.” Emi MacLean, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), an organization which represents dozens of current and former detainees, says that many former detainees have clear and disturbing memories of being forcibly drugged. “Many speak about forced medication at Guantanamo without knowledge about what medication they were being forced to take,” MacLean says. “For some released [military] detainees, the forced medication they experienced was the most traumatic part” of their captivity. Other detainees have claimed, in interviews and statements provided by their lawyers, to have had injections and/or pills forcibly administered to them. One former detainee, French national Mourad Benchellali, says that during his three years at Guantanamo he was given treatments that were described to him as antibiotics or vitamins, yet they left him in what he describes as a mental fog. “These medicines gave us headaches, nausea, drowsiness,” Benchellali recalls. “But the effects were different for different detainees. Some fainted or threw up. Some had reactions such as pimples.” Other injections, often administered by force, left him and other detainees nauseated and light-headed, he says. “We were always tired and always felt groggy.” Detainee Moazzam Begg says that he believes he was given legitimate medications, but in improper dosages by poorly trained prison workers. Once, while being treated with pills for a panic attack, he began to hallucinate. “I saw things moving when they were not,” he recalls. “I talked to myself. I cried, laughed and sat immobile in a corner for hours. All of this was noted by the MPs and recorded.”
Use of Hallucinogens on Recalcitrant Prisoners? - Benchellali says that a different type of injection was used on detainees who were particularly uncooperative. His recollections are echoed by statements from four other detainees. “The injection would make them crazy,” he recalls. “They would have a crisis or dementia—yelling, no longer sleeping, soiling themselves. Some of us suspected they were given LSD.” Center for Constitutional Rights attorney J. Wells Dixon says the government seems to have given drugs to detainees whose extended captivity made them distraught or rebellious. “Many of these men have become desperately suicidal,” Dixon says. “And the government’s response has been to administer more medication, often without the consent of the prisoners.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, Center for Constitutional Rights, Barbara Olshansky, Alberto Mora, Emi MacLean, J. Wells Dixon, Mourad Benchellali, Scott Allen, Physicians for Human Rights, Geneva Conventions, Moazzam Begg, US Department of Justice, Leonard Rubinstein, US Department of Defense, Rhuhel Ahmed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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