The Return of MKULTRA? Evidence Mounts that Drugs Were Used on CIA “Ghost Detainees” During Coercive Interrogations

In A Question of Torture, historian Alfred W. McCoy tracks the nightmarish world of the CIA’s Project ARTICHOKE and its later metastasis, MKULTRA through two distinct, though overlapping phases:

First, esoteric, often bizarre experiments with hypnosis and hallucinogenic drugs, from 1950 to 1956; then, more conventional research into human psychology until 1963 when the agency compiled the fruits of this costly investigation in a definitive interrogation manual.1

As revelations emerge that top Bush administration officials gave the intelligence “community” and Pentagon a “green light” to torture, evidence mounts that CIA and Special Operations Command interrogators used mind-altering drugs on prisoners subjected to coercive interrogations.

According to a report published in Tuesday’s Washington Post,

At least two dozen… former and current detainees at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere say they were given drugs against their will or witnessed other inmates being drugged, based on interviews and court documents.

Like [Adel al-] Nusairi, other detainees believed the injections were intended to coerce confessions.2

The Pentagon and the CIA deny the charges, claiming that the stories are “either fabrications or mistaken interpretations of routine medical treatment,” Warrick reports.

However, the allegations have returned with a vengeance after this month’s release of a Justice Department memo that explicitly approved the use of drugs on prisoners.

The March 2003 memo, penned by Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo, rejected a decades-old ban on the use of “mind-altering substances,” on prisoners. Yoo argued that drugs could be used provided they did not inflict permanent and “profound” psychological damage. The memo claims that U.S. law, as interpreted by Bushist torture enablers, “does not preclude any and all use of drugs.”

When coupled with “reverse-engineered” interrogation techniques derived from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program, the forced drugging of detainees at Guantánamo Bay’s Camp Delta detention facility and CIA “black sites,” all but guarantee a regime of “profound” psychological torture.

In a report published earlier this month, Congressional Quarterly‘s Jeff Stein reports,

‘The new Yoo memo, along with other White House legal memoranda, shows clearly that the policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs was being laid,’ says Stephen Miles, a University of Minnesota bioethicist and author of ‘Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror.’ ‘The recent memo on mood-altering drugs does not extend previous work on this area,’ he said. ‘The use of these drugs was anticipated and discussed in the memos of January and February 2002 by DoD, DoJ, and White House counsel using the same language and rationale. The executive branch memos laid a comprehensive and reiterated policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs.’3

With a “green light” from the administration, Guantánamo Bay torturers’ got what they wanted from Adel al-Nusairi: a forced “confession.” A former Saudi policeman captured in 2002 by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, el-Nusairi told his attorney during an interview at America’s premier gulag, that after hours of interrogation, always preceded by an injection of an unknown drug, his interrogators would rouse him from a fitful sleep–for more questions.

“I was completely gone,” he remembered. “I said, ‘Let me go. I want to go to sleep. If it takes saying I’m a member of al-Qaeda, I will,” according to the Washington Post.

As documented by investigative reporter Stephen Grey in Ghost Plane, prisoners destined for CIA “black sites” or other notorious dungeons in Central Asia or the Middle East, were administered sedatives by “rendition teams” to “calm” their shackled and hooded victims.

These new reports suggest that upon arrival, suspected “terrorists”–real or imaginary–have been drugged as an integral element of their “enhanced interrogation” experience.

French national Mourad Benchellali, a Guantánamo prisoner for three years related how after being administered “medicine” or “vitamins” by his captors said that “these medicines gave us headaches, nausea, drowsiness,” Benchellali wrote in an e-mail to the Washington Post. “But the effects were different for different detainees. Some fainted or threw up. Some had reactions such as pimples.”

But then there were periods when things were demonstrably worse. Benchellali described that periodic injections, “often administered by force,” left him by degrees, feeling nauseated and light-headed. “We were always tired and always felt groggy.”

Benchellali related to Warrick how “a different type of injection seemed to be reserved for detainees who were particularly uncooperative.” The former prisoner described episodes also related by four other detainees in interviews or court documents, of a particularly chilling quality. “The injection would make them crazy. They would have a crisis or dementia — yelling, no longer sleeping, soiling themselves. Some of us suspected they were given LSD.”

As did the attorney representing accused “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla during his three year stint as an “enemy combatant” in a naval brig.

Michael Caruso, the chief federal defender who represented Padilla asserted in a motion last year that his client “was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations,” according to Congressional Quarterly‘s Jeff Stein.

Nor would it be the first time the U.S. government used drugs as a means to induce a “confession” from a “resistant subject.” The CIA’s KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual, has this to say:

Drugs can be effective in overcoming resistance not dissolved by other techniques. As has already been noted, the so-called silent drug (a pharmacologically potent substance given to a person unaware of its administration) can make possible the induction of hypnotic trance in a previously unwilling subject. …

Particularly important is the reference to matching the drug to the personality of the interrogatee. The effect of most drugs depends more upon the personality of the subject than upon the physical characteristics of the drugs themselves. If the approval of Headquarters has been obtained and if a doctor is at hand for administration, one of the most important of the interrogator’s functions is providing the doctor with a full and accurate description of the psychological make-up of the interrogatee, to facilitate the best possible choice of a drug.

Persons burdened with feelings of shame or guilt are likely to unburden themselves when drugged, especially if these feelings have been reinforced by the interrogator. And like the placebo, the drug provides an excellent rationalization of helplessness for the interrogatee who wants to yield but has hitherto been unable to violate his own values or loyalties.

Like other coercive media, drugs may affect the content of what an interrogatee divulges. Gottschalk notes that certain drugs “may give rise to psychotic manifestations such as hallucinations, illusions, delusions, or disorientation”, so that “the verbal material obtained cannot always be considered valid.” For this reason drugs (and the other aids discussed in this section) should not be used persistently to facilitate the interrogative debriefing that follows capitulation. Their function is to cause capitulation, to aid in the shift from resistance to cooperation. Once this shift has been accomplished, coercive techniques should be abandoned both for moral reasons and because they are unnecessary and even counter-productive.4 [emphasis added]

Note the emphasis above: if a doctor is at hand for administration. Which inevitably gives rise to the question: were physicians or other health care professionals present during torture sessions? The answer unfortunately, may be “yes.”

According to psychoanalyst Stephen Soldz, a fierce critic of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) cozy relationship with the CIA and Pentagon throughout Washington’s “war on terror,” some APA members advised interrogators on the most “effective” techniques to psychologically “break” detainees. Soldz writes,

At this point it is unknown if psychologists are involved as among those “health” professionals who involuntarily administered drugs. But we should remember that, thanks partly to military support, a number of psychologists can now legally prescribe drugs. And some of those prescribing psychologists were with the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams [BSCTs] at Guantánamo. It also should be remembered that in 2003 the American Psychological Association co-sponsored with the CIA an invitation-only Science of Deception Workshop that discussed, among other topics, “What pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?” CIA consultant torturers James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were among those invited to attend, as were several of their superiors.5

As Washington’s “bad apples”–wide swathes of the national security apparatus–“took the gloves off” and went to “work the dark side” as vice president Dick Cheney recommended shortly after the September 11 attacks, those with “boots on the ground,” CIA officers, Special Forces operators and mercenary contractors, inevitably complied.

Just as inevitably, new documents–and ever-more revelatory horrors–will emerge, a steady drip, drip, drip from the suppurating wound that is the “post-Constitutional” order created by the rogue Bush regime.

  1. Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006, p. 26. []
  2. Joby Warrick, “Detainees Alleged Being Drugged, Questioned,” Washington Post, Tuesday, April 22, 2008, Page A01. []
  3. Jeff Stein, “Evidence Grows of Drug Use on Detainees,” Congressional Quarterly, April 4, 2008. []
  4. KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation, J. Narcosis, July 1963. []
  5. Stephen Soldz, “A Crisis for the Health Professions: The Involuntary Drugging of U.S. Detainees,” CounterPunch, April 23, 2008. []
Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Paul J. Norton said on April 26th, 2008 at 7:06am #

    MKULTRA hasn’t returned, despite having been banned by Congress it never left. George Herbert Walker Bush, the secret head of the NSA/CIA is in charge of MKULTRA, and has been for quite some time, part of the Prescott Bush industrialist/Nazi conspiracy. Operation Paperclip was the perfect opportunity for the industrialists to adopt secretive Nazi espionage techniques.

    MKULTRA is trauma based mind control, the torture is part of it.

    The Space Preservation Act, which was due to go before Congress was prevented from passing due to 9/11. This is highly significant since radiation experiments which led to direct energy mind control were discovered to have been developed alongside MKULTRA. SDI isn’t about a missile defense shield, it’s about psychotronic warfare, the existence of which has been documented.

    9/11 was an effort for MKULTRA to avoid prosecution, and was employed to pull off the events of that day. You can bet your life on it. I have.

  2. HR said on April 26th, 2008 at 8:56pm #

    So, where are the indictments, from the criminal-in-chief, on down? Oops, forgot, this is the U.S.

  3. ANDREW WEAVER said on May 2nd, 2008 at 12:22pm #

    The United Methodist Church, Torture and President Bush
    On April 11, three days after Southern Methodist University President R. Gerald Turner sent a letter to all the delegates to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) extolling the supposed financial advantages and other virtues of the Bush library and partisan think-tank, George W. Bush announced to the media that he has been deeply involved from the beginning in the details of the use of torture that he authorized.
    ABC News reported: “President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency.” According to White House sources, the discussions about torture techniques were so detailed that some of the “interrogation sessions were almost choreographed” (1-2).
    A month earlier, on March 8, Bush vetoed legislation banning waterboarding and other methods of torture used by government employees. The legislation would have limited CIA agents to 19 less-aggressive tactics outlined in the U.S. Army field manual. The president stated that the government “needs to use tougher methods than the U.S. military to wrest information from terrorism suspects” (3). It has been highly documented that at least 19 prisoners have been tortured to death by the U.S. military (4).
    Waterboarding has a long and sickening history. It was used as a means of torture and coerced baptism during the Protestant Reformation and Spanish Inquisition to convert Jews, Mennonites, witches, and other suspected heretics. It consists of immobilizing an individual on his or her back with the head inclined downward and pouring water over the face to force the inhalation of water into the lungs. As the victim gags and chokes, the terror of imminent death is pervasive.
    Torture is a crime against humanity and a violation of every human rights treaty in existence. It represents a betrayal of the deepest values of the UMC that founded and built SMU. In the supposedly “less enlightened” 18th century, John Wesley explicitly preached against the torture of prisoners of war:

    War itself is justifiable only on principles of self-preservation: Therefore it gives us no right over prisoners, but to hinder their hurting us by confining them. Much less can it give a right to torture, or kill, or even to enslave an enemy when the war is over (5).

    Bush, who claims to be a “proud Methodist,” shows no sign of contrition or regret or repentance for his unchristian behavior. To the contrary, he continues to try to justify himself and protect those in our government who have used and continue to use torture. Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany rightly called the cowardliness of Christians to make evil-doers accountable for their wicked deeds “cheap grace.” Building a monument to this torturer-in-chief on a UMC campus to “celebrate this great president, celebrate his accomplishments” (6) is a defilement of our church that will permanently damage our credibility to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

    (1) http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/LawPolitics/Story?id=4635175&page=1

    (2) http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/041908Y.shtml

    (3) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/08/AR2008030800304.html

    (4) Oath Betrayed: Military Medicine and the War on Terror by Steven H. Miles

    (5) http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/slavery

    (6) Statement by Don Evans, the Chair and a chief fundraiser for the George W. Bush foundation on Feb. 22, 2008, New York Times

    Andrew J. Weaver, Ph.D., is a United Methodist minister and research psychologist living in New York City. He is a graduate of The Perkins School of Theology, SMU. He has co-authored 14 books including: Counseling Survivors of Traumatic Events (Abingdon, 2003) and Reflections on Grief and the Spiritual Journey (Abingdon, 2005).

  4. Solaris said on May 12th, 2008 at 9:18am #

    Mk Ultra is used and is being used as a non lethal weapon. The tactical warfare does not need drugs as the assault is driven by remote areas with access to tactical hardware which attacks the electromagnetic field.

    See Solaris BlueRaven mk ultra/rush interview look for the release of Eye of the Remote, black operations beyond area 52. to be released late june 2008 or july08.