The Justice Department helped the of Army drug experiments in the of Army drug experiments in the death of a civilian mental patient, Rolling Stone magazine says in an article scheduled for publication next week.
The article says that Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who was then head of the Justice Department's Civil Division, apparently signed three letters approving the alleged cover-up.
However, the magazine concedes, there are questions about whether Burger was aware of the circumstances surrounding the case. It quotes a statement from the Supreme Court press office saying that Burger had no recollection of the incident.
In addition, George Leonard, who was Burger's principal assistant at the Justice Department, denied to The Washington Post yesterday that there had been anything improper in the department's role.That role, he said, had involved helping the Army to resolve some legal problems that had impeded a financial settlement with the victim's widow.
The dispute involves the death in January, 1953, of Harold Blauer, 42, a tennis professional who was being treated for depression at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. In August, 1975, the Army formally acknowledged that Blauer died after being given injections of a mescaline derivative that the hospital was testing for the Army.
In September, 1975, the Army admitted that it apparently had violated military guidelines, professional medical ethics and safety procedures in a number of its drug experiments between 1953 and 1969. Although it has not admitted any wrongdoing in Blauer's death, the victim's daughter, Elizabeth Barrett of New York, has instituted an $8.5 million wrongful-death suit against the Army.
In 1953, Blauer's widow, Amy, sued New York State, charging the hospital with malpractice. In 1955, Mrs. Blauer, who died in 1974, accepted an $18,000 out-of-court settlement, half of which was secretly paid by the Army.
The circumstances of that settlement are the subject of the Rolling Stone article by Howard Kohn and Martin Porter. It charges that administering the drug to Blauer, allegedly without his permission and without adequate knowledge of the drug's effects, should have been grounds for a criminal investigation by the Justice Department.
Instead, the article says, the department's Civil Division allowed itself to be enlisted by the Army in an attempt to conceal the role of the drug experiments in Blauer's death. The article quotes a memo by the two Civil Division lawyers assigned to the case, Sam Slade and Donald MacGuineas, saying, "Our purpose is to avoid unfavorable or damaging publicity."
Slade and MacGuiness, both now dead, collaborated with Army lawyers in working out an agreement with New York State for an out-of-court settlement. The article says the deal called for the Army to pay part of the settlement costs in exchange for the state's concealing from Mrs. Blauer, her lawyers and the state court the facts of the Army's involvement.
This arrangement was approved by Leonard, the article says. Alleging that Burger also may have been involved, the article refers to unsigned file copies of three letters written in the spring of 1955 with Burger's name typed at the bottom of each.
The first letter discusses details of the arrangement with New York; the second contains instructions for the Army to "send the check to me as soon as possible," and the third covers the sending of "a check to the state of New York in the agreed amount."
The article says that Leonard, in an interview with the authors, interpreted scribblings in the margins of the file copies as indications that he had approved the letters after their preparation by subordinates and had sent them to Burger for his signature.
However, the article added, Leonard also told the authors he could not recall if Burger had been briefed on the background and details of the case. They quoted Leonard as saying: "His entire knowledge of it might be, 'Look, the Army's in a bind.Do something for them.'"
Leonard, who is now in private practice in Washington, reiterated this point in a telephone interview with The Post yesterday. He also said that he had never been aware of the full circumstances of the matter.
"I doubt that I ever even knew Blauer's name," he said, "or whether he died from an injection or was stabbed with a dagger. I knew there was a civil suit involving negligence, but my understanding was that the man was under the care of New York and that any liability was their problem."
The Justice Department, Leonard continued, became involved because the Army ran into two problems that required it to seek legal advice and assistance.
"There was a national security issue," he said, "because the Army was afraid that if the case went into court there would be a judicial order to produce classified documents. The Army wanted to avoid disclosing classified material, and it wanted to avoid a clash between a court order for the documents and its own regulations prohibiting the disclosure of classified material."
"They wanted to get around these problems by contributing to the New York State settlement," Leonard continued, "but there was another hitch in that Army regulations limited any administrative settlement they could make to $3,500. They came to us because the Attorney General could authorize a higher amount."
"These points had nothing to do with Blauer," he contended. 'I know nothing about the case itself. We were confronted only with the narrow issue of how the Army could get around the hurdle of its own regulations to settle a claims case.I would never override an agency that wanted to settle a case for such a relatively small amount."
Barrett McGurn, information officer for the Supreme Court, confirmed yesterday that Rolling Stone had asked for comment from Burger. McGurn said he had replied that Burger had no recollection of Blauer's name and had only become aware of the controversy about Army drug experiments when they appeared in the news about two years ago.
Burger was assistant attorney general in charge of the Civil Division from 1953 to 1956. He served as a judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia from 1956 until President Nixon appointed him Chief Justice of the United States in 1969.