The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has just released a new 90-page CIA report, which was provided in advance to the Associated Press (AP), shows how the government's top spy agency considered using a drug it believed might work as a truth serum and force terror suspects to spill the beans about future attacks.
The spy agency determined that a drug called Versed, a sedative frequently prescribed to reduce anxiety, was “possibly worth a try.” But according to AP, the CIA did not ask government courts to approve its use.
The secret program was called “Project Medication” -- is now disclosed in a once-classified report that was provided to the ACLU under a court's order and was released Tuesday.
The CIA report revealed the internal struggle that medical personnel working in the agency's interrogation program - routinely breached their professional ethics with the chance to save lives by preventing future attacks.
“This document tells an essential part of the story of how it was that the CIA came to torture prisoners against the law and helps prevent it from happening again,” said ACLU attorney Dror Ladin.
CIA doctors, psychologists, physician assistants, and nurses were, directly and indirectly, involved in the interrogation program from 2002 to 2007, the report said. They evaluated and monitored 97 detainees in ten secret CIA bases overseas.
The report said the CIA completely hid the drug-assisted interrogations from the Justice Department because there were “some significant ethical concerns."
The Justice Department spent months approving various forms of interrogation tactics, including sleep deprivation, confinement in small spaces and the waterboarding. It was noted the CIA’s counterterrorism team “did not want to raise another issue with the Department of Justice,” the report said.
Before the agency selected Versed, the report said government scientist studied many reports of old Soviet drug experiments as well as the CIA’s discredited MK-Ultra program from the 1950s and 1960s that involved human experimentation with LSD and other mind-altering drugs, in the attempt to obtain the holy grail of truth serums.
“But decades later, the agency was considering experimenting on humans again to test pseudo-scientific theories of learned helplessness on its prisoners,” Ladin said.
Versed is marketed under the trade name Midazolam, is a medication used for anesthesia, procedural sedation, trouble sleeping, and severe agitation. It works by inducing sleepiness, decreasing anxiety, and causes a loss of new memories. It can help patients feel relaxed but can cause paranoid or suicidal thoughts and impair memory, judgment, and coordination.
“Versed was considered possibly worth a trial if unequivocal legal sanction first were obtained,” the report said. “There were at least two legal obstacles: a prohibition against medical experimentation on prisoners and a ban on interrogational use of ‘mind-altering drugs’ or those which ‘profoundly altered the senses.’”
The AP said the CIA had no comment on the report’s release, but government lawyers indicated in a 2017 court filing that the report, marked “draft,” was just one agency officer’s impressions of the interrogation program. The document is not the CIA’s “final official history, or assessment, of the program,” the lawyers wrote.
While the harsh interrogation program ended nearly a decade ago, the ACLU thinks it is critical to continue investigating government interrogation programs, since the Trump administration has said they would re-approve harsh interrogation tactics.
CIA Director Gina Haspel, who oversaw a secret CIA detention site in Thailand where detainees experienced harsh interrogations, told the Senate that she does “not support the use of enhanced interrogation techniques for any purpose.”
"The report cites many instances where medical personal expressed concern or protected the health of the detainees. Those who were thrown up against walls — a practice called “walling” — had their necks protected from whiplash by rolled towels around their necks, the report said. When one detainee, who had been wounded during capture, was confined to a box, care was taken not to force his legs into a position that “would compromise wound healing.” Physician assistants overruled using duct tape over the mouths of detainees during flights because air sickness could lead to vomiting and possible aspiration," said AP.
Ladin said that does not suggest that CIA doctors were cruel, "but it means they were complicit because this pseudo-scientific torture could not have happened without the doctors’ participation.”
Dr. Sondra Crosby, who treated victims of torture, including two who were held at CIA secret sites, said the torture was sometimes deadly.
“The enduring pain and suffering experienced by the survivors of the CIA program is immense, and includes severe, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, physical ailments, and psychosocial dysfunction,” said Crosby, of Boston University’s School of Medicine and Public Health. “At least one detainee was tortured to death. Their physical and psychological scars will last a lifetime.”
It seems “Project Medication” is just another failed MK-Ultra esque government program, in search of the holy grail of truth serums. With massive technological innovation in the last ten years and more recently, the Trump administration admitting that they are a fan of harsh interrogation tactics. We must ask this question: Is the CIA closer in finding the ultimate truth serum?