From email@example.com Thu Jun 13 10:30:09 2002
Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2002 00:13:15 -0500 (CDT)
Organization: The Soylent Green Party
From: Dan Clore <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [smygo] Truth Serums & Torture
News for Anarchists & Activists:
On U.S. pundit shows this year, a hot topic has been whether captured
Taliban fighters and alleged al-Qaeda operatives should be subjected
truth serums or physical torture to make them talk.
Hundreds of captured Taliban and al-Qaeda belligerents have been grilled, but apparently little useful has been gleaned. Frustrated U.S. interrogators have complained that Afghan battlefield prisoners employ aliases, deceit and other tactics to withstand interrogations.
In debating how to extract more information, cable-TV commentators and
other pundits generally have treated
truth serum as a softer
means of extracting information compared to more traditional torture,
with commentators weighing the pros and cons of the two
approaches. But beyond the question does
truth serum work? is
a long history of practice that blurs the moral lines between the use
of interrogation drugs and more overt methods of torture.
Former CIA and FBI director William Webster put the
issue into prominent play in April when he urged use of drugs to
loosen the tongues of suspects, such as Osama bin Laden's aide Abu
Zubaida and captives held in cages at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay,
The debate soon spread to cable-TV talk shows. On Fox News'
O'Reilly Factor, for instance, retired Marine Lt. Col. Bill
Cowan said he doubted
truth serum would work but hoped
Webster's suggestion would lead the Bush administration to try
Maybe it'll be an entrie to take us to the next
step, Cowan said.
I kid around with people about plugging them
up to a 110-volt outlet and flipping the switch if they don't want
Guest host John Kasich demurred that many experts don't see
torture as an effective interrogation technique either,
not talking about somebody who's worrying about being politically
correct, but even
people inside of some of our best
Cowan disputed the view that torture is ineffective.
honest by saying that I served a lot of time in Vietnam, and in some
cases where I worked on prisoner operations, we did go a little bit
beyond what normal interrogation techniques would give you, and we got
phenomenal information, he said. [Fox News, April 26, 2002]
Yet, U.S. spymasters--knowing that torture subjects may simply tell an interrogator what he wants to hear--have long yearned for a drug that could pull reliable information out of an unwilling subject.
A sure-fire truth drug has been high on the wish list of U.S. intelligence agencies at least since 1942, when scientists working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the CIAs wartime predecessor, were asked to develop a chemical substance that could break down the psychological defenses of enemy spies and POWs, thereby making it easier to obtain information from them.
After testing several compounds, the OSS scientists selected a potent
extract of marijuana as the best available
truth serum. The
cannabis concoction was given the code name TD, meaning Truth
Drug. When injected into food or tobacco cigarettes, TD helped loosen
the reserve of recalcitrant interrogation subjects.
The effects of the drug were described in a once-classified OSS
TD appears to relax all inhibitions and to deaden the areas
of the brain which govern an individuals discretion and
caution. . . . [G]enerally speaking, the reaction will be one of great
loquacity and hilarity.
In the end, marijuana didnt fit the bill as the ultimate
serum, but it proved to be a gateway drug that set U.S. military
and espionage scientists on a path to creating more powerful and
dangerous chemicals. After World War II, American intelligence stepped
up efforts to find a more effective
In 1947, the U.S. Navy launched Project Chatter, which included
experiments with mescaline, a hallucinogenic drug derived from the
peyote cactus (with effects similar to LSD). Mescaline was studied as
a possible speech-inducing agent after the Navy learned that Nazi
doctors at the Dachau concentration camp had used it in mind-control
experiments. The Nazis concluded that it was
impossible to impose
ones will on another person, even when the strongest dose of mescaline
had been given.
The CIA also embarked upon an extensive research program geared toward developing unorthodox interrogation techniques. Two methods showed promise in the late 1940s. The first involved narco-hypnosis. A CIA psychologist attempted to induce a trance state after administering a mild sedative.
A second technique relied on a combination of two different drugs with contradictory effects, which were injected intravenously into both arms of an interrogation subject. Flick the switch and a heavy dose of barbiturates would knock a person out, and then a stimulant, usually some type of amphetamine, was administered through the other intravenous feed to wake a person up. As the subject started to emerge from a somnambulant state, he or she would reach a groggy, in-between condition prior to becoming fully alert.
Described in CIA documents as
the twilight zone, this
semiconscious limbo was considered useful for special
interrogations. But keeping a person suspended in the twilight zone
was not a precise science, and the results were not always
The CIA was still searching for a viable
truth serum the Holy
Grail of the cloak-and-dagger trade when it initiated Operation
Artichoke in the early 1950s and began utilizing LSD during
interrogation sessions. Odorless, colorless, and tasteless, LSD was
hailed as a
potential new agent for unconventional warfare,
according to a classified CIA report dated Aug. 5, 1954. But even a
surreptitious dose of LSD, the most potent mind-bending drug known to
science, could not guarantee that an interrogation subject would spill
Perhaps the concept of a
truth serum was a bit farfetched, for
it presupposed that there was a way to chemically bypass the minds
censor and turn the psyche inside out, unleashing a profusion of
secrets. After much trial and error, the CIA realized that it doesnt
quite work that way.
Eventually, CIA experts figured out the most effective way to employ LSD as an aid to interrogation. They used its terrifying effects on some prisoners as a third-degree tactic. A skillful interrogator could gain leverage over prisoners by threatening to keep them in a crazed, tripped-out state forever unless they agreed to talk. This method sometimes proved successful where others had failed. LSD has been used for interrogations on an operational basis--albeit sparingly--since the mid-1950s.
U.S. Army interrogators also employed EA-1729 (the code for LSD) as an intelligence-extracting aid. Similar to the strategy of their CIA counterparts, Army interrogators used the drug to scare the daylights out of people who were zonked and terror-stricken on acid.
Documents pertaining to Operation Derby Hat record the results of
several EA-1729 interrogations conducted by the Army in the Far East
during the early 1960s. One subject vomited three times and stated
wanted to die after he had been slipped some LSD. His
reaction was described as
After another target absorbed triple the dose normally used in such
sessions, he kept collapsing and hitting his head on a table.
subject voiced an anti-communist line, an Army report noted,
and begged to be spared the torture he was receiving. In this
confused state he even asked to be killed in order to alleviate his
In calling for use of
truth serums on Taliban and al-Qaeda
captives, Webster said any information extracted from the prisoners
should be used only
for the protection of the country. He said
legal safeguards should be in place to prevent prosecutors from
turning admissions against the detainees.
The former CIA and FBI director also opposed use of torture on the prisoners. That distinction, however, misses the point that the application of drugs during interrogations often has become a form of torture.
Amnesty International maintains that employing
truth serums for
espionage purposes could violate international treaties and the
Convention Against Torture that the United States had signed. But
neither the CIA nor the military has renounced the use of LSD as an
Its a slippery slope, admits Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA
chief of counterterrorism.
Once you've used [truth drugs] for
national security cases, then it becomes a standard. Sodium pentothal
is not that effective, and so you have to use something stronger. Its
a short skip and a hop to LSD, or something worse.