FBI agents working in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, tried repeatedly over the past two years to distance themselves from aggressive military interrogation tactics that they feared could damage future terrorism prosecutions, newly released documents show.
In e-mail and memos, FBI agents reported instances of harsh treatment that included beatings and lighted cigarettes dropped into prisoners' ears. One agent saw shackled detainees who had urinated and defecated on themselves and a prisoner who pulled out much of his own hair after being held in a cell where the temperature climbed above 100 degrees.
In another instance, an FBI agent complained to supervisors after learning that military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had claimed to be FBI agents while using "torture techniques" against a detainee.
"These tactics have produced no intelligence of a threat neutralization nature to date and ... have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee," the agent told three top bureau officials in a Dec. 5, 2003, e-mail. "If this detainee ever is released or his story made public in any way, DOD interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [by] the 'FBI' interrogators. The FBI will [be] left holding the bag before the public."
The e-mail was among hundreds of documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the government under the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to records on detainee treatment. Many FBI agents have law degrees and are attuned to legal implications of harsh questioning.
The ACLU released about 40 pages of FBI records yesterday, including a June 2003 report marked "urgent" and addressed to the FBI director. The report recounted the statement of one source who told agents in the Sacramento field office about observing "numerous physical abuse incidents of Iraqi civilian detainees ... [including] strangulation, beating, placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees ear openings, and unauthorized interrogations."
The heavily redacted report censored the name of the source and many of the details.
A May 2002 memo from Guantanamo Bay said a detainee at Camp X-Ray complained that guards at the detention facility had "entered his cell, unprovoked and started spitting and cursing at him." According to the FBI report, a soldier "jumped on [the detainee's] back and started beating him in the face ... then choked him until he passed out."
The detainee told FBI agents that the soldier said he was beating him because he was Muslim and the soldier was a Christian, according to the report.
In an e-mail on Aug. 2, 2004, an FBI agent recounted seeing detainees at Guantanamo Bay chained "hand and foot in a fetal position on the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more."
Its author, whose name was redacted, said he also saw a detainee held in an unventilated cell, with no air conditioning, "almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."
One FBI agent said in an e-mail dated July 30, 2004, that he had witnessed a detainee at Guantanamo Bay's Camp Delta "sitting on the floor of an interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing."
In another e-mail, from June 25, 2004, an agent noted that a detainee who arrived at the temporary holding facility "appeared to have marks (burns) on him that seemed suspicious. When questioned about the marks, the detainee stated that he had been tortured by his captures. [sic]"
ACLU lawyers drew attention yesterday to an e-mail from an FBI supervisor in Iraq to bureau bosses in Washington that suggested for the first time that President Bush, through an executive order, had authorized military interrogators to use dogs, sleep deprivation, hoods and so-called "stress positions, such as half squats," during detainee interviews.
But a White House spokesman and another government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said yesterday that the e-mail's author was mistakenly referring to Defense Department orders authorizing various interrogation methods.
"What the FBI agent wrote in the e-mail is wrong. There is no executive order regarding interrogation methods," said White House spokeswoman Erin Healy.
Confusion surrounding interrogation policies at U.S.-run prisons has been a persistent theme in the detainee abuse scandal. In December 2002, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved using "mild" physical stress and removal of clothing, but military officials have said that list was rescinded about a month later after concerns were raised by interrogators at Guantanamo.
In a Dec. 9, 2002, e-mail released yesterday by the ACLU, an FBI agent forwarded documents to a supervisor in Washington who was "reviewing legal aspects of interviews here in GTMO."
"One of these is a review of interrogation methods by a DOD lawyer," the e-mail said. "Basically, it appears that the lawyer worked hard to crwite [sic] a legal justification for the type of interviews they (the Army) want to conduct here."
The unidentified agent who referred repeatedly to an "Executive Order" permitting tough interrogation methods in a May 22, 2004, e-mail sought guidance from supervisors on what should constitute reportable abuse under FBI guidelines. Earlier that month, reports surfaced of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
"I wish to make clear our personnel have been present at various facilities when interrogation techniques made lawful by the Executive Order, but outside standard FBI practice, were utilized," the agent wrote. Agents were obligated under FBI guidelines to report abuse or mistreatment of a detainee, but the agent noted: "This instruction begs the question of what constitutes 'abuse.'"