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Interview with Truthout’s Jeffrey Kaye on Alleged Drugging of Detainees in US Military Custody

(Flickr Photo by Jared Rodriguez/

On Wednesday, Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold of Truthout published an exclusive on a Defense Department (DoD) report on the alleged drugging of prisoners in the custody of the US military that had been declassified. The report put together by the DoD inspector general acknowledged that “powerful antipsychotic and other medications ‘could impair an individual’s ability to provide accurate information.'” And, while the report didn’t confirm the prisoners’ allegations that system drugging was taking place, the reporting done by Kaye and Leopold indicates there were several gaps in the investigation. The report should not be considered conclusive evidence that the drugging alleged by prisoners did not take place.

I spoke with Kaye about his exclusive story. One key statement he made was that everyone should read the report so here is a link to it: “Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Mind-Altering Drugs to Facilitate Interrogations of Detainees.”

Below is the interview. It details how the report came to be declassified, what drugs it showed had been used on detainees, what it revealed about a flu shot Jose Padilla had been given and how previously released documents were used to provide context for the declassified report.

You can follow the exceptional journalism of Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold on Twitter at @jeff_kaye & @jasonleopold.


KEVIN GOSZTOLA, The Dissenter: Let’s start with the basic details. How did you get this report and what were you able to find in the report?

JEFFREY KAYE, This report, this article at Truthout, which was written by myself and Jason Leopold, was something I began back when I read an article by Joby Warrick in the Washington Post back in 2008 which he wrote about claims from various detainees that they had been forcibly drugged and coerced into making confessions. One of these detainees, by the way, Adel al-Nusairi, ended up being discussed in the Inspector General’s report. What happened was—again, reported at the time in the Washington Post—senators Chuck Hagel, Joe Biden and Carl Levin wrote a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense saying they wanted this looked into. They were very specific, by the way. They wanted DoD to look into reports that drug testing had been used to facilitate interrogation. They made clear that not for other reasons. They didn’t ask for them to look at these drugs for chemical restraints, the use of drugs to condition detainees to their detention/confinement conditions—Just for facilitation of interrogation and so in some ways this was already a limited report.

Hearing that there was an IG report, I was waiting and in touch at the time with people from the Physicians for Human Rights and hoping that the IG report would be released. Back in 2010, while I was searching for some other information, I noticed they had released the fact they had done the report on their DoD website. It was never picked up again by the Washington Post. It was not discussed by anyone else. I wrote an article at Truthout mentioning this and filed an immediate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. That was all back in late April 2010.

Earlier this year, not hearing back anything, I wrote to the FOIA department at DoD and asked them to tell me whether the report would be completed. In fact, by law they had to give me a completion date. They told me it would be complete by March 30 then I never heard back from again until the end of June and in fact by the end of June they did it give it up.

What the report stated was the DoD inspector general could not substantiate the claims of detainees that they were subjected to mind-altering drugs during interrogations. However, they never talked to any of the detainees that had been released, which is very strange [since that’s where the stories were coming from]. They also did admit, however, which was quite amazing, shocking details that in fact they had been forcibly injecting detainees. They mentioned a drug, Haldol, which is a powerful anti-psychotic medication, and others ostensibly for mental health purposes and then subjected them to interrogation under the influence of this drug. And the inspector general criticized this because they noted that these were drugs that could impair individual’s ability to provide accurate information.

GOSZTOLA: Describe more of the details on what sort of drugs are we talking about that were used on detainees.

KAYE: The only drug they mentioned by name that the inspector general admitted was used on detainees was the drug Haldol, which is the trade name for a drug known as Haloperidol. This is a powerful antipsychotic medication with some really strong and potentially dangerous side effects. In fact, psychiatrists years ago tried to move away from the drug because of these serious side effects. Anyone in [the profession], as I am, knows drugs like Haldol can cause permanent neurological damage, tardive dyskinesia and other kinds of terrible side effects. These are the drugs that they gave to some of the detainees as a terrible lethargy and these drugs are sometimes called chemical lobotomies.

However, they also admitted they used chemical restraints. That means, when they need to subdue a detainee, for instance, they will inject them with medication to do that, to bring them down. They didn’t say what drugs they used. Haldol would be a little bit too slow reacting to that. The report does mention other drugs, in terms of the allegations, allegations that drugs were used such as Demerol, sodium pentathol—Those two drugs were mentioned as possible “truth drugs.” Of course, there were allegations that LSD and PCP were on used on Jose Padilla. But the IG report didn’t mention other drugs and we have to go by second-hand information as to what else was used. If they used Haldol, it’s pretty likely that they also used that can be often paired with Haldol known as Cogentin. It’s a drug to deal with the serious side effects that go with drugs like Haldol.

We’ve heard that they’ve administered drugs like valium and other tranquilizers. Benadyrl I know was often given to these detainees, who were often made to be very sedated. And a number of detainees complained different times when they met with attorneys they would be given drugs or sedated. We know antidepressant drugs were given. We know mefloquine was given to all the detainees, the anti-malarial drug well-known to have a treatment dosage which some percentage of individuals who use it, twenty percent or more, significant side effects both neurological and psychiatric. That covers the drugs we know, on the record, that were used.

GOSZTOLA: When we talk about this, is this something we should talk about in past tense or were you able to engage in an effort to find out if this continues in the prison under President Barack Obama?

KAYE: In particular, on the use of chemical restraints on detainees to control them and the DoD spokesperson, Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, told us that they could not comment on that—whether or not the use of chemical restraints were part of the standard operating procedure that survived. So we don’t know and, as far as the period the report it goes to cover, it takes it up not into the Obama years but only to 2008, last year of the Bush administration. Whether or not the forcible medication of detainees goes on or not, we don’t know.

GOSZTOLA: Specifically, I know in a section of your exclusive you highlight Jose Padilla. Is there anything that you found particularly striking with regards to his detention?

KAYE: There have been reports, and, in fact, in the filing in the Padilla case—Originally, there was a claim back in 2006 by Padilla’s federal public defender that he was given drugs against his will that were believed to be hallucinogenic drugs or some kind of truth serum. When this was brought up in court, the director of the US Naval Brig in Charleston, where Padilla was held, denied all of that. But they did mention that he was injected with something and it was an influenza vaccine. Well, what we discovered was that what they didn’t tell us the court—it was reported for the first time in the IG report—Padilla was actually given the flu shot during an interrogation session. Pretty weird time to give a flu shot. In fact, the inspector general called it “a deliberate ruse by the interrogation team to make” Padilla believe had “been administered a mind-altering drug.” Later, I believe that same day or perhaps the next interrogation he is asking the interrogators, “What did you give me? The serum?” meaning truth serum. This is an outrageous act that has been withheld, covered up, until the release of this report.

GOSZTOLA: Is there anything in doing this reporting that stuck out you, such as in trying to get the documents and pry them from the government or just in looking over the report? I know you’ve done a lot of extensive reporting on Guantanamo detainees.

KAYE: What this report does, I believe, it shows the more and more we begin to pry information out of the government, the worse it becomes. By the way, it only covers the Department of Defense and not the CIA, which has also and perhaps even more so been charged with alleged drugging of detainees. In any case, what I learned if you keep digging, more crap keeps coming out. And, in fact, they said that they didn’t drug detainees, they can’t find allegations, but, if you look into the details, you find people who made those allegations under duress perhaps were forced to change their stories. Other ways of investigating these things from the government side are minimized.

One of the things that this illuminates that we didn’t write about was the potential use of mefloquine, the anti-malarial drug which they gave to every detainee coming to Guantanamo despite the fact there was no malaria danger at Guantanamo. They did not give them to US personnel or to contract workers. It was in fact another way to use drugs. For instance, the condition of the detainees so that when they were interrogated they would be in a broken down condition, which is what they wanted. They wanted cooperation, what the Dod, CIA and others like to call “exploitation of the prisoners.”

There’s a lot that’s new. I don’t know if there’s anything that shocked me. I really encourage readers to read the full report. There’s a lot in there that they may not know about.

GOSZTOLA: Were you able to find from the report that there were other reports that you wanted to seek out? Do you have other outstanding FOIA requests related to this issue?

KAYE: We certainly filed a FOIA request for the CIA—Apparently there was a CIA Inspector General report. We also have a number of outstanding FOIA requests related to the use of mefloquine to a number of organizations on the decision made at Guantanamo and we’re working with sources and we’re doing the best we can. There’s already, frankly, a lot of documents out there and probably a lot of the work is just looking through the documents that have already been released. For instance, probably the most outstanding fact, which we discovered in a document that was released—the Army Surgeon General Kevin Kiley’s report on medical treatment of detainees in the various Guantanamo, Afghanistan, made in 2005 and released not that long after—There’s a lot in that report that’s never been reported.

The same for the Senate Armed Services Committee report. For instance, it referenced Dave Becker, the Interrogation Control Element (ICE) Chief at Guantanamo, who in October 2002 was at a meeting with a number of top interrogation consultants and personnel. And the CIA at Guantanamo had referenced using “truth drugs.” Senate Armed Services Committee report mentioned the same person had suggested the use of sodium pentathol and Demerol on detainees, the use of “truth drugs,” and this was the original recommendations to Donald Rumsfeld. It stayed through at least a few drafts. It was finally taken out of the final draft in April 2003, but those recommendations stayed in there for at least a month and that was done by Dave Becker. This was all in the Senate Armed Services Committee report and also was, in a footnote, that Becker told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he got the idea for using “truth drugs” because he heard a “rumor” that an other government agency was using those drugs. I’m assuming but can’t be sure that was the CIA, but we’ll see if we ever get that report.

None of this was ever reported. The Senate Armed Services Committee report was released to the public three years ago and not one interview, not a blogger, not myself even or anyone, which just means no one had read deep enough into these reports. There’s a lot of information. The ACLU apparently has, as a result of Freedom of Information requests, tens of thousands of documents and it would be great—Frankly, WikiLeaks released tons of different documents. I know you, Kevin, and others have looked through them and found some great stuff, but I know that there must be more there.

But it’s not just WikiLeaks. It’s not just the ACLU. Even the DoD’s own website often puts up releases that they put up from the Department of Justice and these documents have not been analyzed. So, there’s a lot out there for any would-be investigative journalist to use and, as my work has shown, some of the stuff that you can find can be pretty amazing.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."