Weapons of Mass Elation


What should the military do when faced with terrorists who have taken hostages? The answer, according to the Pentagon, may be to give the bad guys some Valium. In recent years, the military has been researching the possibility of using “club drugs” like Special K and anti-depressants like Prozac as “non-lethal weapons” in counterterrorist and peacekeeping operations. “We need something besides tear gas — like calmative, anesthetic agents — that would put people to sleep or in a good mood,” explains Susan Levine, research director of the government’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate. A study for the Marine Corps conducted by Pennsylvania State University concludes that such feel-good weapons are both “achievable and desirable,” noting that drinking water spiked with Ecstasy or rubber bullets filled with Zoloft could “produce less anxious, less aggressive, more tranquil-like behavior.”

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld testified in February that such “riot control agents” could be used during an invasion of Iraq — assuming military planners find a way around international treaties that ban the use of chemical weapons. The military also wants to deploy drugs to soothe unruly mobs, including “hungry refugees that are excited over the distribution of food.” Last October, when Russian authorities used an opiate gas in an effort to free 700 hostages held by Chechen rebels, 117 were killed by the chemicals. But the Pentagon remains high on drugs as weapons; as one military official stated in New Scientist, “I would like a magic dust that would put everyone in a building to sleep — combatants and non-combatants.”

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  • Justine Sharrock is a former Mother Jones staffer. Her most recent book is Tortured: How Our Cowardly Leaders Abused Prisoners, American Soldiers, and Everything We're Fighting For. For more of her stories, click here.