ISSN 2330-717X

2010 Guantánamo Military Report Has Concerns About Reliability Of Intelligence From Prisoners With Mental Health Problems – OpEd

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Many thanks to Jason Leopold, senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News, for securing, through a Freedom of Information request, a DoD Inspector General report from 2010 entitled, “Review of the Joint Task Force Guantánamo’s Inclusion of Mental Health information in Intelligence Reports.”

Leopold, whose dogged pursuit, through FOIA requests, of documents the government would rather keep hidden secured him a description as a “FOIA terrorist,” posted the heavily related 33-page report on Twitter, noting that the report had taken seven years to be released since he first filed a FOIA request for it, and explaining that it was “about the mental health of detainees and the reliability of intel they provided to their captors.” 

The report states that it was “conducted to determine whether DoD Intelligence Information Reports (IIRs) published by Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF GTMO) and its predecessor organizations included information regarding the mental health status of sources or their history of medication with substances and to determine the possible effect on finished intelligence.”

Unfortunately, while the report is helpful to some extent in shining a light on the multi-layered bureaucratic mess of Guantánamo, it is severely lacking in details about how medical information was used by interrogators. The section, “Inclusion of Information in Intelligence Information Reports,” for example, is almost entirely redacted, as are the key findings in the section entitled, “Impact of Information on Finished Intelligence,” the inferrence being, of course, that the redactions were deemed necessary to hide an uncomfortable truth: that unreliable information was indeed extracted from drugged prisoners and/or those with mental health problems. 

Despite its redactions, the report is, however, openly critical of a lack of clarity regarding the protocols for sharing medical information with interrogators, stating, “Present regulatory guidance authorizes health-care providers to share detainee medical information with interrogators, but does not provide specific guidance on how to do so. As a result, execution of these policies at Guantánamo has been inconsistent, resulting in confusion for both health-care providers and interrogation elements.”

Also of interest is an assessment of how different branches of the military viewed the sharing of medical records. The report notes that United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), which oversees Guantánamo, “issued guidance directly applicable to detainee operations at Guantánamo” in a Policy Memorandum in August 2002, which stated bluntly that “communications between detainees and health-care providers are not confidential,” and “charged medical personnel to convey any information concerning the accomplishment of a military or national security mission.”

Additional guidance was issued in a memorandum in August 2004, which noted that “medical information could be made available to appropriate military authorities and released by the JTF GTMO surgeon or the United States Southern Command Surgeon.”

However, the report also noted that, in June 2003, the Detention Hospital at Guantánamo published Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which “stipulated that intelligence and law enforcement personnel were not allowed to check out medical records or to view medical records in clinical areas,” adding that, “Only members of the Behavioral Science Consultant Team (BSCT) were permitted to view medical records.” 

Additionally, SOPs in 2005 “directed that no medical or dental information was to be used for the purposes of furthering intelligence gathering and that all release of medical or dental information must have the written approval of the Surgeon General or his deputy,” and that “at no time would active detainee medical or dental records leave the custody of the detention medical staff.”

In a summary, the report found that “policies for both medical support to detainees and interrogation have evolved over time. Health-care providers and interrogation staff described an evolving information-sharing environment ranging from unrestricted access to medical records by interrogators to an almost total restriction on the disclosure of medical information in support of interrogations.”

The summary added that an interview with a former commander of the Joint Medical Group, JTF GTMO, a survey from a former interrogator, and the Admiral Church investigation of detention operations “indicate that from the commencement of detainee operations at Guantánamo, interrogators reportedly had unrestricted access to detainee medical records.” Then, in April 2003. “the JTF Surgeon designated BSCT personnel as intermediaries to review detainee medical records on behalf of interrogators,” and two months later, in June 2003, “access to detainee medical records by personnel became subject to review by the JTF Judge Advocate General.” And finally, in June 2004. the JTF Surgeon “updated local policy and prohibited BSCT personnel from accessing detainee medical records without the JTF Surgeon’s express approval.”

The summary also stated that “[t]he majority of interrogation supervisors and interrogators we surveyed (covering the period of 2002 to 2008) confirmed that they did not have access to detainee medical/mental health records. However, as will be discussed in Finding B, the interrogation staff clearly had access to mental health information, If not the actual records. Furthermore, in spite of the obstacles placed on interrogators’ direct access to detainee medical records we discovered no policy prohibiting the sharing of detainee medical information with intelligence components for interrogation purposes.

Eagle-eyed eyes readers will have spotted a tantalizing reference to “Finding B” in the paragraph above, but unfortunately ‘“Finding B” is the “Inclusion of Information in Intelligence Information Reports,” mentioned above, which is almost entirely redacted. 

However, despite the shortcomings of the report, its release is useful not only as part of the historical record, but also as a reminder of the still-unfolding story of detainee treatment — and, most crucially, mistreatment — at Guantánamo, and particularly those aspects of this long and sordid story that involve drugs administered to prisoners, and the exploitation of those with mental health problems. 

Precursors to the 2010 report

As Jason Leopold stated in his Twitter thread, “This particular report grew out of a prior DoD investigation into whether Guantánamo detainees were given mind altering drugs to facilitate interrogations.” 

That report, “Alleged Use of Mind Altering Substances on Detainees by DoD Personnel for the Purpose of Interrogation,” dated September 2009, is here, and Jason’s article about its significance, written with the psychologist and investigative journalist Jeffrey Kaye, and entitled, “DoD Report Reveals Some Detainees Interrogated While Drugged, Others ‘Chemically Restrained,’” was published by Truthout in July 2012 (and cross-posted on my site, with my own commentary, here). 

Leopold and Kaye wrote about how the DoD report established that “[d]etainees in custody of the US military were interrogated while drugged with powerful anti-psychotic and other medications” that, as the report described it, “could impair an individual’s ability to provide accurate information,” and, in addition, “were subjected to “chemical restraints,” [and] hydrated with intravenous (IV) fluids while they were being interrogated.”

Earlier, in 2010, Truthout had published another ground-breaking article by Leopold and Kaye, “Controversial Drug Given to All Guantánamo Detainees Akin to ‘Pharmacologic Waterboarding,’” (cross-posted with my own commentary here), which alleged widespread use of the controversial anti-malarial drug, mefloquine, administered regardless of whether or not the prisoners had malaria, and known for causing severe neuropsychiatric side effects, including suicidal thoughts, hallucinations and anxiety.  

It’s also worth noting that the 2009 report only came about at the instigation of Senators Joe Biden, Chuck Hagel and Carl Levin, who had been appalled to read a Washington Post article in April 2008, by Joby Warrick, entitled, “Detainees Allege Being Drugged, Questioned,” which seems to have been the first time that allegations surfaced about prisoners being drugged in connection with interrogations. Warrick’s article focused on Adel al-Nusairi, a Saudi policemen, freed in 2006, who said he had been drugged and interrogated, and the Post, drawing on statements made by “[a]t least two dozen other former and current detainees at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere,” stated that al-Nusairi and others “believed the injections were intended to coerce confessions.”

The spur for Warrick’s article, in turn, was the release of a 2003 Justice Department memo that “explicitly condoned the use of drugs on detainees.” As Warrick explained, Written to provide legal justification for interrogation practices, the memo by then-Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo [the author of the notorious 2002 “torture memos”] rejected a decades-old US ban on the use of ‘mind-altering substances’ on prisoners. Instead, he argued that drugs could be used as long as they did not inflict permanent or ‘profound’ psychological damage. US law ‘does not preclude any and all use of drugs,’ Yoo wrote in the memo.”

Further allegations of medical abuse by prisoners

As I was revisiting the aspects of the Guantánamo story relating to drugging, interrogations, and the use of medical records, I realized that I hadn’t previously seen the US authorities refer to prisoners’ dental records, but that I had heard about prisoners discussing how dental problems were used by interrogators. My source is an unpublished report about medical abuse in Guantánamo, compiled by former prisoner Omar Deghayes after his release from the prison in December 2007. 

Deghayes noted a several examples of prisoners with severe tooth pain. In most cases, he stated, the authorities did nothing, and in another “dentists pulled out four good teeth and left the tooth that had caused the pain.” Revisiting these claims, I couldn’t help thinking that they were tied to interrogations, and that they very obviously would have required interrogators, or the behavioral science consultants working closely with the interrogators, to have had access to prisoners’ medical records.

Mostly, however, revisiting Omar Deghayes’ collection of prisoner accounts has reminded me of the extent to which medical abuse appears to have been rife at Guantánamo, making questions about the reliability of intelligence from prisoners with mental health problems or on mind-altering medication just a sub-set of a a regime of medical neglect or specific abuse that was entirely connected to perceptions of cooperation. As well as being cruel and, I’m pretty sure, deserving of prosecution for all involved, this also helped to create an environment in which, while the US professed to be seeking the truth in interrogations, almost everything it did tended to do the opposite — to encourage prisoners to lie to secure medical treatment, or to stop specific abuse, all of which, of course, is why one of the most shocking truths about Guantánamo, which, to this day, far too few people realize, is the extent to which the supposed evidence justifying the imprisonment of the men held at Guantánamo was profoundly unreliable.  

Deghayes’ assessment of the medical staff at Guantánamo was that they “had a policy, which they would always remind us about, that ‘their job was not to treat any illnesses but rather to only keep us alive and prolong our suffering unless we had information to provide the interrogators.’ This was said to us again and again, especially during interrogations, and they kept repeating this to make sure we understood that. So the only way to get any treatment at Guantánamo was to comply with providing interrogators information, even if you didn’t have any information, or to become a false witness against others. Some people, while suffering excruciating pain, had to go down this route so that they could get some medical attention because their condition became unbearable.”

Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to his RSS feed (he can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see his definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, and, if you appreciate his work, feel free to make a donation.

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