Dissent over interrogations

Study shows FBI protests of practices at Guatanamo

May 21, 2008|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON - In 2002, as evidence of prisoner mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay began to mount, FBI agents at the base created a "war crimes file" to document accusations against American military personnel but were eventually ordered to close down the file, a Justice Department report disclosed yesterday.

The report, an exhaustive, 437-page review prepared by the Justice Department inspector general, provides the fullest account to date of internal dissent and confusion within the Bush administration over the use of harsh interrogation tactics by the military and the Central Intelligence Agency.

In one of several previously undisclosed episodes, the report found that American military interrogators appeared to have collaborated with visiting Chinese officials at Guantanamo Bay to disrupt the sleep of Chinese Muslims held there, waking them up every 15 minutes the night before their interviews by the Chinese.

In another incident, it said, a female interrogator reportedly bent back an inmate's thumbs and squeezed his genitals as he grimaced in pain.

The report describes what one official called "trench warfare" between the FBI and the military over the rough methods being used on detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The report says that the FBI agents took their concerns to higher-ups but that their concerns often fell on deaf ears: Officials at senior levels at the FBI, the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council were all made aware of the agents' complaints, but little appears to have been done as a result.

The report quotes passionate objections from FBI officials who grew increasingly concerned about the reports of practices like intimidating inmates with snarling dogs, parading them in the nude before female soldiers, or "short-shackling" them to the floor for many hours in extreme heat or cold.

Such tactics, said one FBI agent in an e-mail message to supervisors in November 2002, might violate American law banning torture.

More senior officials, including Spike Bowman, who was then the head of the FBI's national security law unit, tried to sound the alarm as well.

"Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don't know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war," Bowman wrote in an e-mail message to top FBI officials in July 2003.

Many of the abuses the report describes have previously been disclosed, but it was not known that FBI agents had gone so far as to document accusations of abuse in a "war crimes file" at Guantanamo. The report does not say how many incidents were included in the file after it was started in 2002, but the "war crimes" label showed just how seriously FBI agents took the accusations. Sometime in 2003, however, an FBI official ordered the file closed because "investigating detainee allegations of abuse was not the FBI's mission," the report said.

The inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, found that in a few instances, FBI agents participated in interrogations using pressure tactics that would not have been permitted inside the United States. But the "vast majority" of agents followed FBI legal guidelines and "separated themselves" from harsh treatment, the report says.

The report says that the FBI "had not provided sufficient guidance to its agents on how to respond when confronted with military interrogators" who used interrogation techniques that were not permitted by the FBI, and that fueled confusion and dissension. But it also says that "the FBI should be credited for its conduct and professionalism in detainee interrogations in the military zones."

Jameel Jaffer, who tracks detainee issues for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that "the FBI's leadership failed to act aggressively to end the abuse" and called for "an independent and comprehensive investigation of prisoner abuse."

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