Veterans Kept as Guinea Pigs to Get Some Relief
OAKLAND (CN) - The government must come clean about the hazards of drug experiments to which it subjected Vietnam veterans, a federal judge ruled.
Vietnam Veterans of America filed a class action against the Army and CIA in 2009, claiming that at least 7,800 soldiers had been used as guinea pigs in Project Paperclip.
The soldiers say they were administered at least 250, and perhaps as many as 400, types of drugs, including Sarin, one of the most deadly drugs known, as well as amphetamines, barbiturates, mustard gas, phosgene gas and LSD.
Using tactics it often attributed to the Soviet enemy, the U.S. government sought drugs that could control human behavior, cause confusion, promote weakness or temporary loss of hearing and vision, induce hypnosis and enhance a person's ability to withstand torture, according to the complaint.
The veterans claimed that some soldiers died, and others suffered seizures and paranoia.
They said the CIA knew it had to conceal the tests from "enemy forces" and the "American public in general" because revealing it "would have serious repercussions in political and diplomatic circles and would be detrimental to the accomplishment of its mission."
After two failed attempts to dismiss the action, the defendants succeeded last year in getting claims against Attorney General Eric Holder and the CIA dismissed.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken granted the plaintiffs class action status last September, which could make thousands of veterans eligible for relief.
The crux of the veterans' argument has been that Administrative Procedure Act obligates the defendants to provide notice to test subjects and to provide them with medical care.
In the years since the experiments, the government defendants say they have made efforts to contact test subjects and provide them with notice.
For instance, the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs put some information about the tests on its public website, including a hotline for additional information.
Both the veterans groups and the government defendants moved for summary judgment. Judge Wilken partly granted the veterans' motion Wednesday.
"The court concludes that defendants' duty to warn test subjects of possible health effects is not limited to the time that these individuals provide consent to participate in the experiments," she wrote.
"Instead, defendants have an ongoing duty to warn about newly acquired information that may affect the well-being of test subjects after they completed their participation in research."
Wilken was not convinced, however, that the government owes the veterans additional medical care not already available to them from the Veterans' Administration.
"Defendants are entitled to summary adjudication that sovereign immunity has not been waived with regard to this claim because plaintiffs and the class members can seek medical care through the DVA and challenge any denial of care through the statutory scheme prescribed by Congress," the 72-page opinion states.
The government defendants also moved for judgment on the plaintiffs' constitutional claims for notice and health care. The veterans did not move for judgment on those claims.
"Plaintiffs rely on cases in which courts have held that agencies are bound to follow their own regulations and that failure to do so may violate the due process clause," Wilken wrote. "However, defendants are correct that such a failure does not always amount to a constitutional violation."
The judge vacated a final pretrial conference and upcoming trial, and ordered the parties to submit a joint proposed injunction and judgment to comply with the court's order.