(CN) – After two botched dismissal attempts, the CIA succeeded this week in tossing claims from Vietnam War veterans who say they were human guinea pigs for the U.S. government during the Cold War.
In a 2009 class action, Vietnam Veterans of America said the Army and CIA experimented on at least 7,800 soldiers in “Project Paperclip.” They were given at least 250 and as many as 400 types of drugs, among them sarin, one of the most deadly drugs known to man, amphetamines, barbiturates, mustard gas, phosgene gas and LSD.
Goals of the project included controlling human behavior, developing drugs that would cause confusion, promoting weakness or temporarily causing loss of hearing or vision, creating a drug to induce hypnosis and identifying drugs that could enhance a person’s ability to withstand torture.
The veterans say that some of the soldiers died, and others suffered grand mal seizures, epileptic seizures and paranoia. In support of their claim that the CIA was required to give soldiers notice of the drugs’ effect, the plaintiffs pointed to a 1977 congressional hearing.
There, former CIA director Stansfield Turner said the agency was working “‘to determine whether it is practicable … to attempt to identify any of the persons to whom drugs may have been administered unwittingly,’ and … ‘if there are adequate clues to lead to their identification, and if so, how to go about fulfilling the Government’s responsibilities in the matter.'”
At one of the hearings, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy asked Turner if the CIA planned on notifying those tested, to which Turner responded, “Yes.”
The veterans said in their 2009 complaint that the government “never made a sincere effort to locate the survivors.”
After two unsuccessful attempts to dismiss the complaint, the CIA tried again in December. U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken noted Tuesday that the latest motion “raised arguments not contained in their two previous motions.”
Wilken agreed Tuesday to dismiss claims against Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as claims against the CIA for notice about the exposure and for medical care. The Department of Defense is still on the hook for the medical care claims, according to the Oakland, Calif.-based judge’s ruling.
Ultimately, Wilken found that Turner’s 1977 testimony did not “legally bind the CIA,” and that “intention and commitment are different concepts.”
In supporting the medical claims against the Defense Department, the veterans had pointed to a 1962 opinion by the Judge Advocate General, who said compensation available to employees depended on “the individual status of each member.”
“It may be stated generally that under present laws no additional rights against the Government will result from the death or disability of military and civilian personnel participating in experiments by reason of the hazardous nature of the operations,” the opinion said.
While the government claimed that this opinion supported its motion to dismiss, Wilken disagreed. The opinion, the judge noted, “does not establish that experiment participants are not entitled to medical care.”
“The passage states only that the ‘hazardous nature’ of the experiments does not create additional rights,” according to Wilken’s 11-page opinion.