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More Charges of Forced Drugging at Guantanamo

On February 21, attorneys for six former Guantanamo prisoners took their civil case against Donald Rumsfeld and a number of U.S. military officials to federal appeals court. Rumsfeld and the others are being sued “for the torture, religious abuse and other mistreatment of plaintiffs,” according to a press release from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

Unremarked in the otherwise thin press coverage of this case was the fact that four of the six former prisoners charge the U.S. with forced drugging, via pills or injections. In one case, a special riot squad known as the “Extreme Reaction Force” entered the cell of one of the prisoners to restrain him and force medications upon him.

The former prisoners were from Turkey, Uzbekistan and Algeria. According to an Agence France-Presse account published at The Raw Story the day of the hearing, “the judges will make their ruling in several weeks, but one of them, Judge David Tatel, said military and civilian officials at the Pentagon had failed in their duty.

“‘Their job is to protect the detainees from abuse, they failed to do so,’ he said.”

A year ago, the case had been dismissed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, despite the fact that three of the plaintiffs were held prisoner at Guantanamo and subjected to torture and other cruel treatment even after a Pentagon-initiated review process had found them not to be “enemy combatants.”

According to CCR’s press release, the current appeal is based in part on the fact that immunity doctrines used to shield “the actions of government officials who abused Guantánamo detainees” were based on the fact these prisoners “were suspected of being enemy combatants.” The fact that the U.S. military tortured men who were not under the category of “enemy combatant” may undermine the government’s immunity argument, or perhaps allow for a Supreme Court ruling on the matter.

Drugging led to Inspector General investigation

The forced use of drugs at Guantanamo and other U.S. military sites is not a minor issue, for such use of drugs is both medically unethical and illegal according to both domestic and international law. Back in Spring 2008, the controversy over reports of such forced drugging was a front-page story in the American press, leading three U.S. senators — two of whom, Joseph Biden and Chuck Hagel, are now the Vice-President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense, respectively — to task the inspector generals (IG) of both the CIA and the Department of Defense to investigate the issue.

While the CIA report is still classified, DoD released a redacted copy of their IG report to me, and Jason Leopold and I published a thorough review of that report at Truthout in July 2012. Leopold and I found that the government admitted to interrogating prisoners while they were being medicated. The government maintained such prisoners were not specifically drugged for interrogation, but for other reasons. Indeed, the military admitted to forcibly drugging prisoners who they wished to be “chemically restrained.”

In a follow-up story at Truthout in September 2012, I noted various ways in which the DoD IG report was a cover-up regarding the extent of the drugging of the prisoners.

“But while the IG report was spurred by a June 2008 Washington Post article reporting a number of former detainees’ complaints of drugging and a subsequent letter to the IG from three US senators,” I wrote, “the IG report never interviewed any of the detainees mentioned in the Post story.

“The IG interviewed only three detainees, all of whom were still held at Guantanamo. ‘We did not attempt to interview detainees who had been repatriated,’ the IG stated, which would include any of the detainees who had previously made public statements to the press that they had been forcibly drugged.”

Indeed, many former detainees have charged Guantanamo officials with forced drugging. For instance, a military prosecutor admitted to former detainee David Hicks’s attorney that prison authorities put drugs in Hicks’s food, as they “periodically sedated [Hicks] for non-therapeutic reasons.”

In another example, after he was forcibly repatriated to Algeria from his cell at Guantanamo, Abdul Aziz Naji, who was sentenced to prison in Algeria after his release from U.S. custody, told an Algerian newspaper that some prisoners at Guantanamo were forced “to take some medicines for three months to drive them crazy, loosing [sic] memory and committing suicide.”

New charges about “unspecified pills and injections”

Four of the six men suing Rumsfeld and the others in the CCR case charge that they were forcibly drugged at Guantanamo.

According to court documents, Yuksel Celikgogus, a 39 year old Turkish citizen, “was repeatedly forced to take unspecified pills and injections. Mr. Celikgogus asked what type of medicine he was receiving, but the guards would neither let him refuse the medication nor tell him what they were giving him.”

Twenty-six year old Turkish citizen Ibrahim Sen “was forcibly given unspecified pills and injections. The guards would neither let him resist the medication nor respond to his inquiries as to its substance.”

Nuri Mert, who is a 35 year old Turkish citizen, released, like Ceilikgogus and Sen to Turkey some years ago, suffered physical attack when he tried to resist the forced drugging.

According to the court document, “Throughout his detention at Guantánamo, Mr. Mert was forcibly given unspecified pills and injections. The guards would neither let him resist the medication nor respond to his inquiries as to its substance. In multiple instances, when Mr. Mert refused the medication, he was forcibly medicated by an Extreme Reaction Force (“ERF”) team. As is typical in such instances, a group of soldiers in riot gear burst into his cell, threw him to the ground and restrained him, carried him out of the cell, and forced him to either take pills or an injection. During his time in Camp Delta, Mr. Mert became extremely ill; he experienced severe stomach and chest pains and regular vomiting. When Mr. Mert wanted medical care, he was often deprived of such care despite frequent requests.”

Zakirjan Hasam was the fourth of the former detainees who claimed he was “forcibly medicated with pills and injections repeatedly while in Guantánamo.” Hasam is an Uzbek refugee who transferred to Albania in 2006. Along with Abu Muhammad, the other Uzbek in the case, he currently lives in a refugee camp in Tirana.

All the former detainees are said to suffer terribly from their torture at the hands of the American armed forces. According to Shayana Kadidal, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, “These men’s lives were irreparably damaged at Guantánamo. The U.S. government acknowledges they were wrongly imprisoned for years yet refuses to compensate them and help them rebuild their lives.”

Besides Rumsfeld, the other defendants in the suit include former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers and General Peter Pace, former commanders of Joint Task Force-GTMO Major General Michael Dunlavey, Major General Geoffrey Miller and Brigadier General Jay Hood, as well as the former director of the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantanamo, Esteban Rodriguez, among many others.

Besides forced drugging with “unknown substances,” the former prisoners’ suit describes a panoply of tortuous treatment, including “beatings, short-shackling, sleep deprivation… subjection to extremes of cold or heat and light and dark, hooding, stress positions, isolation, forced shaving, forced nakedness, forced sexual contact and intimidation with vicious dogs and threats, many in concert with each other.”

Drugs and the Army Field Manual

While some of these “techniques” have now been banned by the military — such as hooding — others continue in use as official parts of the Army Field Manual, whose interrogation procedures have been propounded by President Obama’s January 22, 2009 executive order on “lawful interrogations.” These include sleep deprivation, manipulation of temperatures, isolation, and other so-called interrogation “approaches” and “techniques.”

While it is not commonly known, the Army Field Manual does allow use of drugs on detainees, so long as they do not “induce lasting or permanent mental alteration or damage.” This makes military use of drugs on prisoners even more permissive than John Yoo’s allowance to the CIA in his famous 2002 memos. Yoo had told the CIA it could not use on prisoners “mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.” While Yoo’s stricture had a lot of room for possible abuse, the current version of the Army Field Manual allows almost any kind of drug to be used, lacking proof of “lasting or permanent mental alteration or damage.”

This is all a far cry from how the military once considered the issue of drugging prisoners. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service [CRS], earlier military doctrine “prohibited the use of any drugs on prisoners unless required for medical purposes.” The CRS report describes a 1961 opinion by the Army’s Judge Advocate General which stated, “’the suggested use of a chemical “truth serum” during the questioning of prisoners of war would be in violation of the obligations of the United States under the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.’ From this opinion it seems clear that any attempt to extract information from an unwilling prisoner of war by the use of chemicals, drugs, physiological or psychological devices, which impair or deprive the prisoner of his free will without being in his interest, such as a bonafide medical treatment, will be deemed a violation of Articles 13 and 17 of the [Geneva] Convention.” [p. CRS-14]

Moreover, according to CRS, the 1987 version of the Army Field Manual on interrogation “suggested that the use of any drugs for interrogation purposes amounted to mental coercion.”

How far we have come since those days can be traced by how the U.S. treats the drugging of prisoners today. The full story of how the U.S. used drugs on prisoners at Guantanamo, if in fact such use is still not happening, remains to be uncovered. The military’s IG investigation was a whitewash. Meanwhile both Congress and the mainstream press have appeared to wash their hands of the matter. But the suffering of the prisoners remains, and their testimony may not be left lingering in limbo forever. Sooner or later these crimes will have their day in a court of law or other duly constituted tribunal.

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Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye

Jeffrey Kaye is a retired psychologist who has worked professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus, previously wrote regularly for Firedoglake’s The Dissenter, as well as at The Guardian, Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record. He is the author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo, a new book examining declassified files on treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo detention camp.