OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – The CIA fortified its efforts to toss a lawsuit alleging that the government used U.S. veterans as human guinea pigs in Cold War-era drug experiments. It says the case hinges on “secrecy oaths” the soldiers say they were forced to take.
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 government allegedly administered soldiers with at least 250 and as many as 400 types of drugs, including lethal Sarin, amphetamines, barbiturates, mustard gas, phosgene gas and LSD.
Using tactics it often attributed to the Soviet enemy, the U.S. government sought drugs to 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 say that some soldiers died, while others suffered seizures and paranoia. They also said the CIA made them take “secrecy oaths”
Earlier this month, the CIA sought summary judgment and dismissal, claiming the Vietnam Veterans’ remaining claim on the validity of “secrecy oaths” had no merit. It claimed that the veterans “have not identified any service member who purportedly had such an oath with the CIA” and do not have “specific facts to support this claim at the time they filed their complaint (or at the present time).” (Parentheses in original.)
“This record makes clear that plaintiffs have never seriously pursued their ‘secrecy oath’ claim against the CIA,” Justice Department attorney Kimberly Herb wrote for the CIA. “Due to the absence of allegations concerning the CIA with regard to this sole remaining claim and plaintiffs’ own admissions that they do not have specific facts to support it, the CIA has repeatedly asked plaintiffs to voluntarily withdraw the claim.”
On Aug. 9, Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that the court would only hear the CIA’s motion for judgment on the pleading, and set a hearing on the matter for Sept. 1.
The veterans opposed the CIA’s position last week, calling the CIA’s motion “the latest salvo in the CIA’s effort to avoid its discovery obligations in this matter.”
They said the CIA is “plainly wrong” in boiling the veterans’ lawsuit down to a dispute over secrecy oaths. The CIA “has not mentioned, briefed, or moved to dismiss plaintiffs’ constitutional due process claims,” according to the Aug. 11 answer authored by Gordon Erspamer.
“Thus, the CIA’s argument that the entire action against the agency would end if the court were to dismiss the secrecy oath claim is patently frivolous,” Erspamer wrote. “The court should reject the CIA’s slight-of-hand effort to dismiss plaintiffs’ constitutional claims by implication.”
The veterans also disputed the CIA’s claim that the complaint fails to specifically allege that the CIA itself administered secrecy oaths. Even if the complaint implies that the Army administered the oaths, the complaint has alleged that “the testing programs were carried out through concerted action between the CIA and the Army,” Erspamer wrote. “The fair ‘implication’ of those allegations is that the CIA indeed was also involved in the administration of secrecy oaths, and in fact may have originated them.”
Regardless of how U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken rules on the agency’s motion for judgment, the CIA should remain a defendant in the action, the veterans say.
On Thursday, the CIA filed a response to the veterans’ opposition, again emphasizing that the veterans could not demonstrate standing to challenge alleged “secrecy oaths.”
Justice Department attorney Kimberly Herb said the veterans’ complaint contradicts itself regarding the CIA’s role in the oaths.
While the vets claim “fair implication” on one hand, they also claimed to “not currently have facts identifying specific circumstances where the Central Intelligence Agency directly administered secrecy oaths to plaintiffs,” Herb wrote.
“If plaintiffs truly believed they had independent, viable claims for notice and medical claims under the Constitution, it is curious that they did not mention them anywhere in their opposition,” Herb wrote (italics in original).