Witnesses back Hicks on chemical torture
- September 16, 2012
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New evidence supports claims of forced injections and abuse.
Long-held claims by the former detainee David Hicks that he was drugged against his will have been backed by evidence from a prominent attorney, independent investigations and previously secret reports.
Details of the mistreatment of the former Guantanamo Bay inmate were set to emerge publicly for the first time in the Australian government’s proceeds of crime action against him – until the government abandoned its case. It would have been Mr Hicks’s first day in a properly constituted court. But Commonwealth prosecutors decided that their case to seize revenue from his book about his Guantanamo experience would not stand up.
Mr Hicks’s lawyers would have used new evidence from US authorities that would then have become public. By dropping the case, the shutters have been brought down on what happened, and some documents are to be kept secret.
The Sun-Herald understands that these documents were expected to shed light on the appalling treatment of detainees. The Sun-Herald has also been given affidavits that were to be presented in court confirming that Mr Hicks had been drugged against his will.
Other investigations show that Guantanamo Bay detainees, including David Hicks, were forced to take high dosages of the controversial anti-malaria drug mefloquine despite showing no signs of the disease, an unprecedented practice that has been likened to ”pharmacologic waterboarding” by a US military doctor.
Questions have been raised about whether the mass administration of the drug to detainees was a secret, illegal experiment after a medical journal article last month by an army doctor, Major Remington Nevin, highlighted the ”inappropriate use” of the drug, asking if its use had been motivated by its psychotic side effects. The US Centre for Disease Control has issued a warning against the use of mefloquine on anyone suffering psychiatric disturbances or having a history of depression. Dr Nevin has also warned that high doses of the drug can cause brain injuries.
Evidence including previously secret reports and witnesses including a Guantanamo guard, and New York lawyer, Josh Dratel, support Mr Hicks’s claims that he was drugged. Mr Dratel, who has top secret security clearance from the US Department of Justice and has acted for a number of detainees including Mr Hicks, was to give direct evidence of the ”non-therapeutic” drugging. In an affidavit prepared for the trial, Mr Dratel revealed that US prosecutors had admitted that Mr Hicks’s claims that ”guards had forced him to eat a meal which contained a sedative before they read him the charges” were true. He was told it had been done to protect the officers from his reactions.
Former Guantanamo guard Brandon Neely also supplied an affidavit for the trial saying that detainees were regularly beaten for refusing to take the medications.
Mr Neely has also said that the doctors never told the detainees what drugs they were being given.
Just what drugs were being administered in some cases may never be known. Medical records are apparently incomplete, with names and dosages of some drugs removed.
Stephen Kenny, one of the first lawyers allowed into Guantanamo Bay and who acted initially for Mr Hicks, has called for a full inquiry.
”If they were genuine medications then why does the name of the drug need to be removed?” asked Mr Kenny, who is also a spokesman for The Justice Campaign.
Further evidence of forced druggings by injection at Guantanamo has been revealed in a previously secret US Department of Defence intelligence report into allegations of the use of mind-altering drugs to facilitate interrogation. The report obtained under freedom of information laws by the independent US news outlet, Truthout, uncovered evidence that ”pyschoactive medication was administered to detainees for mental health purposes and that these injections were sometimes forced with unco-operative detainees”. It also found that ”chemical restraints were used on detainees that posed a threat to themselves” and detainees being treated with psychoactive drugs that impaired their mental functions were interrogated while under the effects of the medication.
Such forced druggings and abuse handed out to Mr Hicks and other detainees was to be at the heart of his defence against the Australian government’s legal action to stop him receiving proceeds of crime by collecting royalties from his book Guantanamo: My Journey.
After 6½ years in detention, Mr Hicks made an Alford plea – which is not recognised in Australia – meaning that he acknowledged the evidence but did not make any admissions. It meant he was convicted in the US of providing material support for terrorism but he was allowed to go home and serve a seven-month prison sentence.
The 37-year-old lives in Sydney and is working as a panel beater, but claims that the pain he suffers as a result of the druggings means that he now relies on painkillers.
On July 24, a week before his case was due to go to trial in the NSW Supreme Court, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the case, saying it would have been unable to satisfy the court that any admissions made by Mr Hicks at Guantanamo should be relied upon and that Mr Hicks had served evidence not previously available.
A statement released by the CDPP said Mr Hicks had challenged the admissibility of the evidence against him, including the certificate of conviction from the Guantanamo military court and the transcripts of the court’s hearings.
”If, at any stage in the conduct of legal proceedings by the office, there is a concern as to the sufficiency of available evidence, then the office will review the matter regardless of what stage the proceedings have reached in the court process,” the statement said. A spokesman for the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, declined to comment, saying it was a matter for the CDPP.
When Mr Hicks returned to Australia and was serving the seven-month term in Adelaide’s Yatala prison, he requested blood tests be taken to determine what drugs he had been given. He was refused, and by the time he was released it was too late to detect traces in his system.
Mr Hicks’s lawyer, Steven Glass from Gilbert and Tobin, said: ”The only thing David has wanted since he was first detained in 2001 was to have the allegations against him determined by a properly constituted court applying the rule of law. The trial in the NSW Supreme Court would have been the first time he had that opportunity.”
Mr Hicks said he had mixed feelings about the case being dismissed.
”Preparing for the case brought back memories of my ordeal in Guantanamo and interfered with my life terribly. But I am disappointed that the case was dropped because it was the first time I could have my day in court and the Australian people could have heard what actually went on,” he said.
The opportunity to see previously classified documents has been lost.
”During the period leading up to the trial, proposed evidence was exchanged between the parties, including evidence that had been provided to the Australian authorities by the US authorities at Guantanamo,” Mr Glass said. ”We were planning to rely on that evidence at trial.”
Known drugs administered to Hicks
Questions have been raised about the use of this anti-malarial drug for illegal and secret experiments.
High dosages were given to all detainees, including David Hicks, to stop the spread of malaria. But it was not given to staff brought into the centre from malaria-endemic countries.
Army doctor Remington Nevin said mass administration of the drug in such high doses to people who are asymptomatic or uninfected was akin to ”pharmacologic waterboarding”.
Anti-malaria drugs were used for experimental research by the CIA in the 1950s under its MK-ULTRA mind control program, according to research by independent news outlet Truthout. The US Food and Drug Administration product guide says it can cause mental health problems, including anxiety, hallucinations, depression and unusual behaviour. It has been linked to brain injuries, suicidal and homicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety.
Concerns about the medication’s side effects resurfaced in March when a former Army psychiatrist listed it among the medications possibly taken by Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, charged in the shooting deaths of 16 Afghan civilians.
A gastro-intestinal mix of drugs that is supposed to contain liquid antacid, similar to Mylanta, and a mild anaesthetic such as lidocaine. But Mr Hicks said that after taking it, he became so drowsy he couldn’t stay awake.