SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A newly released Pentagon report says there is no evidence that officials at Guantanamo Bay used mind-altering drugs to interrogate prisoners, but lawyers for men held at the U.S. base in Cuba said Thursday that the findings still raise troubling questions.
The report by the Department of Defense Inspector General found that some detainees were interrogated while they were also being treated by doctors at the prison for diagnosed mental conditions and receiving prescribed psychoactive medications.
Lawyers for prisoners say that raises the possibility that incriminating statements could have been made under the influence of medication, potentially raising questions about evidence that has been used to justify detaining or charging men held at the base.
"If the government relied on statements by doped up detainees, regardless of why they were doped up, the government has kept men locked up for more than a decade on the basis of evidence that can't be trusted," said David Remes, a Washington-based human rights lawyer who represents 16 prisoners at Guantanamo.
The Inspector General report does not address the content of any interrogations or how prisoner statements may have been used. A Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, declined to comment on any potential legal implications and said there was no evidence of any deliberate attempt to use mind-altering drugs on men accused of terrorism or some connection to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
"The detainees were not given drugs as a means to facilitate interrogation, let me clear about that," Breasseale said.
The investigation was conducted in 2008-2009 at the request of members of Congress. It was prompted by an April 2008 story in The Washington Post in which a prisoner alleged he had been drugged and questioned in apparent violation of U.S. law and other detainees said they were forcibly medicated. The Inspector General's report was not publicly available until this week, when it was published by the website Truthout, which obtained it through the Freedom of Information Act.
Names of detainees are redacted in the report. But it is clear from a quote cited in the report that investigators looked into the case of Adel al-Nusairi, a former Saudi police officer cited in the Post story who told his lawyer of being injected with an unknown drug while undergoing lengthy interrogations. The prisoner said he gave a made-up confession to get a break from one session.
The Inspector General found that the prisoner had been diagnosed as schizophrenic and psychotic with a borderline personality disorder and was treated at Guantanamo with Haldol, a drug that can make people lethargic. The report said there was no evidence that shots were administered during his interrogation.
Al-Nusairi was sent back to Saudi Arabia in 2006 and was not interviewed for the report, nor was his lawyer, Anant Raut. The lawyer told The Associated Press that he could not comment on the prisoner's case but said the report appears to validate complaints by a number of detainees that they were given mind-altering drugs at Guantanamo, calling into doubt the validity of their statements to authorities. "I commend the investigators for uncovering that," he said.
Other findings in the report include that "numerous" detainees have complained of being medicated against their will and that prison officials have used drugs referred to as "chemical restraints" to subdue aggressive prisoners deemed to pose a threat. The Pentagon spokesman said he was unable to discuss details about how often or when such substances are used at the prison, where the U.S. holds nearly 170 men.
One Guantanamo prisoner told investigators that he had been given green and red pills while in U.S. custody at Bagram, Afghanistan, that made him fall asleep, and that when he awoke interrogators told him that they had all the information they needed. "At the time they said it was some candy. And I was hungry so I ate it," he is quoted as saying.
The Inspector General investigators spoke with U.S. Army personnel who interrogated the prisoner and they denied giving any detainee a drug or medication or witnessing anyone else doing so. They said they frequently gave detainees food or candy to encourage them to talk.
The Inspector General also investigated an alleged use of a mind-altering drug during questioning in December 2002 of a prisoner at the U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, an apparent reference to convicted terrorism plotter Jose Padilla. The Inspector General found that the prisoner was given a flu shot and was told it was a "truth serum" as a ruse. Padilla's defense lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.