Home / General / TruthOut: Gitmo Detainees Received “Pharmacological Water-boarding”

TruthOut: Gitmo Detainees Received “Pharmacological Water-boarding”


While the world continues to scour over the gossip goldmine that is CableGate, here is a genuinely important and disturbing story about DOD behavior in Guantanamo that just surfaced (through normal investigative reporting):

The Defense Department forced all “war on terror” detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison to take a high dosage of a controversial antimalarial drug, mefloquine, an act that an Army public health physician called “pharmacologic waterboarding.”

The US military administered the drug despite Pentagon knowledge that mefloquine caused severe neuropsychiatric side effects, including suicidal thoughts, hallucinations and anxiety. The drug was used on the prisoners whether they had malaria or not.

The revelation, which has not been previously reported, was buried in documents publicly released by the Defense Department (DoD) two years ago as part of the government’s investigation into the June 2006 deaths of three Guantanamo detainees.

Army Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, who was stationed at Guantanamo at the time of the suicides in 2006, and has presented evidence that demonstrates the three detainees could not have died by hanging themselves, noticed in the detainees’ medical files that they were given mefloquine. Hickman has been investigating the circumstances behind the detainees’ deaths for nearly four years.

TruthOut has the entire expose. It’s possible they’re overreaching and that this is a case of gross malpractice rather than intentional psychological torture. Many of the claims to the contrary are somewhat speculative, and unlike other forms of torture that the US acknowledged and carefully regulated under the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation,’ DOD officials apparently are claiming this was all done in the inmates’ health interests. On the other hand, the questions raised here are serious enough that the Obama Administration ought to authorize an investigation to determine what was actually going on, and in the words of our former President, “I wouldn’t put it past ’em.”

I would also hope this story generates some serious attention to “>militaries’ use of psychotropic drugs, not only on detainees but also as a method of warfare. It is an area in which international humanitarian law has few or no specific regulations I am aware of (though this particular case might be considered torture under US law and if evidence surfaces that the government was keeping records of the adverse effects of the drugs, it could be considered a violation of rules against biological experiments on inmates). High time to take neurological as well as physical suffering seriously.

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  • rea

    (1) I doubt that this was intended as an interrogation technique, given that the article shows that the military has been misusing the drugs on soldiers as well as prisoners. New ascribe to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity.

    (2) “Army Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, who was stationed at Guantanamo at the time of the suicides in 2006, and has presented evidence that demonstrates the three detainees could not have died by hanging themselves, noticed in the detainees’ medical files that they were given mefloquine.”

    Well, which is it? If they didn’t really hang themselves, then what does mefloquine have to do with anything? I thought the issue was whether the drug’s side effects were resposnbile for the suicides.

    Mind you, I’m not defending our treatment of the Guantanamo prisoners–I’m just saying that these particular criticisms fall short of showing intentional abuse.

  • latinist

    rea: I think this is just confusing because of the way this section has been excerpted. If you read the whole thing, it sounds like they’re not saying these were suicides caused by mefloquine, it’s just that the investigation into these three deaths (on other grounds) was what led to the discovery that they, and other prisoners, were taking mefloquine.

  • Joe

    The petty shot at the “the gossip goldmine” that lots of serious sources “mine” for serious material is beneath you. But if you want to go there, if this is a problem (malpractice or intentionally), it underlines how Wikileaks gets sympathetic coverage — actually trusting the government and other media (which apparently had a story available for two years?) is risky.

    • JJ

      Let’s keep it to “normal investigative reporting” shall we?

      • hv

        “Our Mission

        Truthout works to broaden and diversify the political discussion by introducing independent voices and focusing on under-covered issues and unconventional thinking. Harnessing the expanding power of the Internet, we work to spread reliable information, critical thought and progressive ideas.”

        Sounds to me like extraordinary investigative reporting! So sad that Ms. Carpenter’s bais over WikiLeaks begins to obscure other important details.

        • JJ

          No problem here with TruthOut, I actually read the piece on GTMO prior to seeing Ms. Carpenter’s post. As you said, my issues are with her unnecessary jabs at Wikileaks.

  • Janet221

    This is an important story and Truthout is NOT overreaching at all. Read what the tropical disease experts say. The act of “mass presumptive treatment” of mefloquine (1250 mg) is unprecedented. They gave TREATMENT doses to detainees before lab tests or before they had the evidence that they had malaria.

    The expert Remington Nevin, who is an Army doctor, said the side effects detainees were exposed to as a result of “mass presumptive treatment” would be just as bad as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

    As truthout report says why haven’t they released the medical records? And why would they treat detainees at Guantanamo differently than Haitian refugees held there a decade earlier who actually HAD malaria?!

    This is a long story but read in its entirety its easy to understand that this was medical malpractice. I would tell everyone to actually read the whole story in context. I don’t see any overreaching. They’re basically asking questions and the Department of Defense even gave a response

    • Sean Peters

      This is just about unbearably silly. If you want to complain about unnecessary treatment, that’s a legitimate issue – no one, including prisoners, should be given drugs when they are not indicated. But the idea that they were deliberately given to introduce altered mental states is just ridiculous.

      I’ve taken mefloquine. When I was in the Navy, our ship was heading for a known malarial area, and not only I but the entire ship (300+ people) was on mefloquine prophylaxis. The worst effect anyone noticed was unusually vivid dreams.

      So what I’m saying is that we’re not exactly talking about LSD here. If the USG wanted to induce altered mental states in its prisoners, presumably they would have an entire pharmacopoeia loaded with agents that were way, way more effective than a freaking anti-malaria drug.

      Publishing this kind of stuff just makes TruthOut (and Ms. Carpenter) look kind of dumb.

      • DocAmazing

        Ah, but giving overdoses (and that is what we’re talking about) of mefloquine provides deniablility–it can be blamed on a mistranscription, or a corpsman’s error–while still providing the psycholgic effects desired (at the does described, Mr. Peters, I assure you that you would have had more than vivid dreams) without the lack of deniability afforded by LSD. Additionally, mefloquine was readily available at the moment, and required no sign-off–more deniability.

        No, if one were seeking to pull something covertly, LSD would have been a poor choice. Sidney Gottlieb’s body lies a-mold’ring in the grave.

      • Janet221

        Um, Navy guy, you were given a prophylactic dose whereas the detainees were given TREATMENT doses in a manner that was unprecedented, as the article says, and that was never done before. HELLO?! Great that you offer an opinion but you really couldn’t have read the story or you would have read what the experts said. Really what looks stupid is your comment, not the article.

  • Ben

    It’s been a bad few weeks for people who helped the Bush regime torture other, browner, people.

  • Anderson

    Oh, here’s the kicker, from the Wikipedia article on mefloquine:

    Central nervous system events occur in up to 25% of people taking Lariam, such as dizziness, headache, insomnia, and vivid dreams.[6] A This American Life broadcast entitled “Contents Unknown” tells the story of an American who lost his memory while working in India as a result of mefloquine prophylaxis.

    What a wonderful drug to give people you’re interrogating!

    Then once you wipe their memories, you torment them into giving false confessions to whatever you want them to be guilty of!

    • Sean Peters

      Let’s think about this, people. We’re talking about a drug that gives “up to” a quarter of the people taking it problems like headaches and sleep disturbances (I can testify from personal experience with mefloquine that these symptoms are very mild even when they occur). So you are an unethical interrogator who wants to induce altered mental states in your prisoners. Do you pick this? Or mescaline?

      The idea that interrogators wanted to make their victims mentally unstable, and for this purpose they picked mefloquine, is pretty damn ridiculous. There are many, many drugs that would do a lot better job. This is much more likely a case of medical screwing up rather than some deliberate attempt to space out the prisoners.

  • DrDick

    One more thing to make me proud to be an American.

  • Jay B.

    I’m utterly willing to believe that the media on fail overwhelmingly on reporting the details of the conduct of American foreign policy AND miss out completely on the potential use of advanced torture techniques.

  • King Rat

    I was on Larium maybe 15 years ago, and it was the most unpleasant medicine I’ve ever been on. Just a really awful feeling when awake, and vivid, unpleasant dreams. And that was the preventative dose.

  • Simple mind

    All the stranger as there is NO malaria risk in Cuba:


    Draw you own conclusion.

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