The CIA explored using a drug it believed could act like a truth serum to interrogate prisoners about possible terror attacks in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, according to a once-classified report made public Tuesday.
A newly released 90-page account details the existence of a drug research program called “Project Medication” and discloses how the CIA’s Office of Medical Services maintained an influential role in the development of detention and interrogation practices.
Specifically, the documents reveal the CIA researched the possibility of using a psychoactive drug called Versed to interrogate high-level prisoners.
“The history reveals that CIA doctors were hunting for a ‘truth serum’ to use on prisoners as part of a previously secret effort called Project Medication,” American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Dror Ladin said in a statement, also noting records show that CIA doctors were “indispensable” to the effort of “legitimizing the program.”
The CIA determined that the drug was “considered possibly worth a trial if unequivocal legal sanction first were obtained” but ultimately opted not to ask government lawyers to approve the use of the drug.
“The CIA studied records of old Soviet drug experiments as well as the CIA’s notorious and discredited MK-Ultra program, which involved human experimentation with LSD and other drugs on unwitting subjects,” Ladin said.
Versed is a sedative typically prescribed to reduce anxiety but medical personnel at the CIA believed that it could also be administered to prisoners to influence their state of mind during questioning.
The documents note that “Versed was one of the safest and most easily reversed benzodiazepines” and that “it also afforded some amnesia, a sometimes desirable secondary effect.”
“A downside was a requirement for (presumably) physician-assisted intravenous administration,” it adds, noting that LSD could be administered “silently,” they note.
Additionally, the documents describe the ethical dilemmas faced by medical professionals associated with the program.
“OMS psychologists nonetheless found themselves operating in a gray zone, as the alternated between operational and clinical roles in supporting the program. The assessed mental status and monitored psychological well-being, but also looked for any apparent factors which would preclude the use of enhanced interrogation techniques,” the report says.
The CIA declined to comment on the release of the documents.
According to the ACLU, the newly released records support the idea that “CIA torture left a legacy of broken bodies and traumatized minds.”
And that lesson remains relevant today given President Donald Trump’s comments on the issue of torture and CIA Director Gina Haspel’s controversial record.
“Today, with a President who has vocally supported torture and a new CIA director who was deeply complicit in torturing prisoners, it’s more important than ever to expose the crimes of the past. Recognizing the roles played by the lawyers, doctors, and psychologists who enabled torture is critical to making sure it never happens again,” the statement said.
Prior to her confirmation, Haspel faced a barrage of criticism from some Democrats and human rights groups after she was picked in March to succeed Mike Pompeo as the nation’s top spy, over her role in the George W. Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program.
The criticism came on two fronts: Haspel ran a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002 where detainees were brutally interrogated with tactics that critics say is torture. And she drafted the cable that her boss sent to destroy dozens of CIA interrogation tapes in 2005.
In 2017, Trump ignited a row over the use of waterboarding after claiming intelligence professionals told him it “absolutely works.”
In an interview with ABC News, he said at the time that the US must “fight fire with fire” when dealing with terrorists in comments which reverberated around the world.