Drugging Detainees

July 24, 2012

By Leonard Rubenstein, JD, LLM


A report by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, obtained by investigative journalists under the Freedom of Information Act, reviewed allegations of the use of mind-altering drugs — meaning psychotropic or psychoactive drugs that affect perception, mood, consciousness or behavior — in the interrogation of detainees held in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. The report is available online.


The investigation concluded that interrogators did not deliberately use such drugs as a means to seek to obtain intelligence, though some detainees were falsely told that they were being drugged for that purpose.  Two other findings of the report are especially disturbing.  One is that, contrary to practice and policy in federal prisons, drugs were used as chemical restraints for security purposes. The Supreme Court has clearly stated that the use of drugs for these purposes is unconstitutional unless they provide medical benefit to the prisoner, and the report identifies no such requirement in the Pentagon’s treatment of detainees.  The policy puts physicians in the position of using their medical skills to advance the security objectives of commanders and against the medical interests and human rights of patients under their care.


Equally troubling is the confirmation that detainees who suffered severe mental breakdown were administered anti-psychotic medication and interrogation continued. We know from prior reports and medical records that some detainees exhibited psychotic symptoms or committed acts of self harm as a result of the use of interrogation practices such as isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory overload, stress positions and severe humiliation.  A physician who prescribed anti-psychotic drugs to a detainee in these circumstances without insisting that interrogation stop would be complicit in inflicting yet additional severe pain and suffering on a detainee already in desperate condition.



Leonard Rubenstein, JD, LLM
, is a lawyer who has spent his career in human rights, and now focuses particularly on health and human rights, especially the protection of health in armed conflict,  and the roles of health professionals in human rights. At Johns Hopkins he is a member of the core faculty of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights and affiliated with the Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School, and is Associate Faculty of the Berman Institute of Bioethics

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Leonard Rubenstein

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