CIA interrogators sought a truth serum to get Abu Zubaydah (pictured) to give up information, it has been revealed
CIA interrogators sought a truth serum to force a senior Al-Qaeda prisoner to give up information when they failed to break him with waterboarding after the 9/11 attacks, formerly top secret documents have revealed.
They were desperate to get information about possible future attacks from Abu Zubaydah, who they considered a top operative for Al-Qaeda and believed to have helped plot the attacks on September 11, 2001.
So interrogators reached back decades to the agency’s 1950s experiments with mind-altering drugs like LSD and also to Russian testing of alleged truth serums in the 1980s.
The existence of the drug research program – dubbed ‘Project Medication’ – has been revealed in a once-classified report that was provided to the American Civil Liberties Union under a judge’s order and was released by the organization on Tuesday.
Abu Zubaydah’s capture in Pakistan in 2002 prompted the CIA under President George W. Bush to create the interrogation program, now widely viewed as torture, in the belief that he had information about Al-Qaeda that he had not already provided to the FBI.
That belief was false, according to a report released by the Senate intelligence committee in 2014.
Interrogators reached back decades to the agency’s 1950s experiments with mind-altering drugs like LSD and also to Russian testing of alleged truth serums in the 1980s. Pictured, the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia
He has never been charged with a crime or appeared before a judge despite efforts by his lawyers to challenge his detention. His lawyers have even asked the government to charge him so they could at least get him into court.
The CIA believed that Abu Zubaydah — whose formal name is Zayn al-lbidin Muhammed Husayn — was one of the most senior figures in Al-Qaeda when he was captured.
But he is now described in U.S. documents as a ‘well-known al-Qaida facilitator.’ His lawyers deny he was a member of the terrorist organization.
The Senate report documented a litany of harsh treatment that included being water-boarded 83 times in a month.
The treatment was so harsh, according to the report, that CIA officers sent a cable to their bosses seeking assurances that Abu Zubaydah ‘will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,’ unable to recount it.
In addition to wounds sustained during his capture, Abu Zubaydah received a serious head injury from a mortar shell fighting in Afghanistan in 1992 and suffers severe memory loss as a result.
In September 2006, he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where he remains.
Before that, officials of the CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS) came up with the idea to pursue a ‘truth serum’ amid frustration that Abu Zubaydah ‘showed remarkable resilience’ despite being put through vicious treatment, including stress positions and sleep deprivation.
‘The intensity and duration of AZ’s interrogation came as a surprise to OMS and prompted further study of the seemingly more benign alternative of drug-based interviews,’ said the report.
They were particularly interested in a drug trade-named Versed, or midazolam, a sedative that can cause loss of memory while in effect
In ‘Project Medication,’ the CIA doctors weighed barbiturates like sodium amytal and psychotomimetics, which create symptoms of psychosis.
They were particularly interested in a drug trade-named Versed, or midazolam, a sedative that can cause loss of memory while in effect.
After months of research, the agency decided that the drug – which is currently used in executions by lethal injection in some parts of the US – was ‘possibly worth a try.’
But in the end, doctors found an absolute lack of historical evidence that drugs could induce a subject to give up information and CIA decided not to ask government lawyers to approve its use.
‘No such magic brew as the popular notion of truth serum exists,’ said a 1961 intelligence review.
‘It seems likely that any individual who can withstand ordinary intensive interrogation can hold out in narcosis,’ it said.
Still, the interrogators considered the drugs could trick a prisoner into thinking that he had done so.
‘Such drugs, although widely regarded as unreliable sources of ‘truth,’ were believed potentially useful as an ‘excuse’ that would allow the subject to be more forthcoming while still saving face,’ the interrogators reasoned.
But they faced a prohibition on agency medical research on prisoners that came after the agency’s 1950s MKULTRA program in which mind-altering drugs were tested on humans.
One man who was secretly given LSD in that program subsequently committed suicide.
After having stretched legal limits to get permission to use torture techniques on prisoners, the CIA’s legal office ‘did not want to raise another issue with the Department of Justice,’ the report said.
The 90 page report on the OMS record in post 9/11 interrogations was released after a court battle led by the American Civil Liberties Union.
While the CIA’s harsh interrogation program ended in 2007, the ACLU believes it’s important to continue seeking the release of documents about it, especially since President Donald Trump declared during his campaign that he would approve interrogating terror suspects with waterboarding, which is now banned by US law, and a ‘hell of a lot worse.’
CIA Director Gina Haspel (pictured) was involved in supervising a secret CIA detention site in Thailand where detainees were waterboarded
CIA Director Gina Haspel, who was involved in supervising a secret CIA detention site in Thailand where detainees were waterboarded, told the Senate during her confirmation hearing that she does ‘not support use of enhanced interrogation techniques for any purpose.’
Between 2002 and 2007, CIA doctors, psychologists, physician assistants and nurses were directly involved in the interrogation program, the report said.
They evaluated, monitored and cared for 97 detainees in 10 secret CIA facilities abroad and accompanied detainees on more than 100 flights.
The CIA ultimately decided against asking the Justice Department to approve drug-assisted interrogations, sparing CIA doctors ‘some significant ethical concerns,’ the report said.
It had taken months for the Justice Department to sign off on brutal interrogation tactics, including sleep deprivation, confinement in small spaces and the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.
The CIA’s counterterrorism team ‘did not want to raise another issue with the Department of Justice,’ the report said.
The ACLU said the entire report showed how medical doctors were critical to the torture program and helped legitimize it.
‘One of the most important lessons of the CIA’s torture program is the way it corrupted virtually every individual and institution associated with it,’ said ACLU attorney Dror Ladin.