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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Experimented-Upon Veterans Deserve Notice

(CN) - Cross-appeals will not sideline the Army's duty to warn veterans subjected to Cold War-era drug experiments about potential health concerns, the 9th Circuit ruled.

The Thursday ruling comes in Vietnam Veterans of America et al. v Central Intelligence Agency et al., a 2009 class action that claimed at least 7,800 soldiers had been used as guinea pigs in Project Paperclip.

Soldiers were administered at least 250 and perhaps as many as 400 types of drugs, among them Sarin, one of the most deadly drugs known, amphetamines, barbiturates, mustard gas, phosgene gas and LSD.

Using tactics it often attributed to the Soviet enemy, Uncle Sam 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.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken certified the class in 2012, which could make thousands of veterans eligible for relief.

Though the defendants succeeded in tossing claims against Attorney General Eric Holder and the CIA, the Department of Defense and Department of the Army are still on the hook.

In November 2103, Judge Wilken gave both sides some relief, granting the Defense Department, Army and CIA summary judgment on certain claims, and giving the plaintiffs summary judgment only on one claim against the Army.

"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," Wilken wrote then.

"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."

In an injunction accompanying the summary judgment order, Wilken directed the Army to provide such test subjects with newly acquired information that may affect their well-being that it has learned since its original notification, now and in the future as it becomes available."

The Army complained that it would cost $8.8 million over five years to provide possible test subjects with the kind of notice the court ordered, but Wilken found the defendants did not show that those costs will cause them irreparable harm - an element needed to stay the injunction.

Though the 9th Circuit briefly stayed the injunction pending cross-appeals last week, it lifted the stay Thursday.

"Here the only irreparable injury claimed is the expenditure of money and the time and energy of Army personnel," the unsigned order states. "Even this showing is vague and general, but putting those problems aside, it has long been 'well established that such monetary injury is not normally considered irreparable.'"

The Army has 14 days from the date of the order to produce a court-ordered report.

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