Detainees Allege Being Drugged, Questioned

By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Adel al-Nusairi remembers his first six months at Guantanamo Bay as this: hours and hours of questions, but first, a needle.

"I'd fall asleep" after the shot, Nusairi, a former Saudi policeman captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2002, recalled in an interview with his attorney at the military prison in Cuba, according to notes. After being roused, Nusairi eventually did talk, giving U.S. officials what he later described as a made-up confession to buy some peace.

"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.' "

Nusairi, now free in Saudi Arabia, was unable to learn what drugs were injected before his interrogations. He is not alone in wondering: At least two dozen other former and current detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere say they were given drugs against their will or witnessed other inmates being drugged, based on interviews and court documents.

Like Nusairi, other detainees believed the injections were intended to coerce confessions.

The Defense Department and the CIA, the two agencies responsible for detaining terrorism suspects, both deny using drugs as an enhancement for interrogations, and suggest that the stories from Nusairi and others like him are either fabrications or mistaken interpretations of routine medical treatment.

Yet the allegations have resurfaced because of the release this month of a 2003 Justice Department memo that explicitly condoned the use of drugs on detainees.

Written to provide legal justification for interrogation practices, the memo by then-Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo rejected a decades-old U.S. ban on the use of "mind-altering substances" on prisoners. Instead, he argued that drugs could be used as long as they did not inflict permanent or "profound" psychological damage. U.S. law "does not preclude any and all use of drugs," Yoo wrote in the memo. He declined to comment for this article.

The memo has prompted new calls for the Bush administration to give a full accounting of its treatment of detainees, and to make public detailed prison medical records. Legal experts and human rights groups say that forced drugging of detainees for any nontherapeutic reasons would be a particularly grave breach of international treaties banning torture.

"The use of drugs as a form of restraint of prisoners is both unlawful and unethical," said Leonard Rubenstein, an expert on medical ethics and the president of Physicians for Human Rights. "These allegations demand a full inquiry by Congress and the Department of Justice."

Scott Allen, a physician and co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights in Providence, R.I, noted that there are no accepted medical standards for the use of drugs to subjugate prisoners. Thus, any such use in interrogations "would have to be considered an experimental use of medicine."

So far, the evidence is limited to the accounts of detainees who describe similar episodes in which they were forcibly given drugs and experienced unnatural physical effects ranging from extreme drowsiness to hallucinations. U.S. military officials have acknowledged using only therapeutic drugs, such as vitamins and vaccines, on Guantanamo Bay detainees.

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