Fresh Horrors at Guantanamo

NEW YORK – A leading civil rights group says that government records pertaining to an investigation of prisoner abuses at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba are still being withheld, and those it has received under a court order are so heavily censored that they "raise more questions than they answer."

Still, correspondence handed over to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recounts what one observer calls "treatment that was not only aggressive, but personally very upsetting," including leaving prisoners shackled in the fetal position and covered in urine and feces.

Under pressure from Congress, the Defense Department announced late last week that it would open its own probe into all reports of abuse contained in documents newly released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Army Brigadier General John T. Furlow will lead the investigation, which could begin this week.

Guantanamo’s commanding general, Jay Hood, said a military team independent of the Guantanamo mission was needed to find and interview people who had left the post and were no longer under his command.

Meanwhile, the ACLU says it "will return to court both to challenge the adequacy of the agencies’ searches and to challenge particular redactions."

"Why did the FBI narrow its investigation? Did the FBI ever conduct follow-up interviews? Did the FBI provide a formal summary of its findings to the Defense Department?" asked ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer. "If so, why hasn’t the FBI released a copy of this report?"

The release of the documents followed a federal court order that directed the Defense Department and other government agencies to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filed by advocacy groups including the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace.

Among the FBI documents turned over to the ACLU is an e-mail dated Dec. 9, 2002 referring to the "military’s interview plan" along with the comment, "You won’t believe it!"

Other papers obtained by the ACLU include a heavily edited document referring to an investigation captioned "Corruption Federal Public Official – Executive Branch," which appears to have been referred to the FBI because of a "conflict of interest."

Accompanying this document is an FBI summary of "potentially relevant criminal statutes." The statutes pertain to war crimes, torture, aggravated sexual abuse, and sexual abuse of a minor or ward.

The new documents also reveal that many of the FBI’s earlier descriptions of abuses came in response to an e-mail from Steve McCraw, the assistant director of the FBI’s Office for Intelligence, to more than 500 agents who had been stationed at Guantanamo, asking them to report whether they had observed "aggressive treatment, interrogations or interview techniques" that violated FBI guidelines.

According to subsequent e-mails noting the status of the "special inquiry," 478 responded and 26 reported observations of detainee mistreatment by personnel of other agencies. The 26 summaries were reviewed by FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni, who determined 17 to pertain to "approved DOD techniques." As a result, says Jaffer, "some 17 reports of abuse were not investigated."

For unknown reasons, the ACLU says, Caproni declined further investigation of the abuses she considered to follow approved DOD interrogation techniques. The ACLU says "she focused only on those abuses that were not approved by even the DOD’s permissive rules. As a result, only nine reported incidents were tagged for follow-up investigation."

The ACLU’s review of the documents also shows that other critical records have not been released. For instance, the FBI has withheld a copy of a May 30, 2003 "electronic communication" in which the FBI formally complained to the Defense Department about the treatment of detainees.

These most recent FBI documents were released on the eve of the confirmation hearings of Attorney General-nominee Alberto Gonzales, who is widely thought to be responsible for a memorandum to President George W. Bush providing legal justifications for the use of torture.

Thousands of pages of other FBI documents were received by the ACLU as the result of an earlier request, and a federal court recently ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to turn over all documents relating to its internal investigation of prisoner abuse.

The new documents obtained by the ACLU indicate that prisoner abuse at Guantanamo went beyond anything the government acknowledged.

For example, in one e-mail, dated July 16, 2004, an FBI agent, whose name is deleted, reports seeing a detainee at Guantanamo "sitting on the floor of the interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing."

In another, dated Aug. 2, 2004, an unidentified FBI agent reports "on a couple of occasions" entering interview rooms at Guantanamo and finding one of the detainees "chained hand and foot in a fetal position to 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. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. When I asked the MPs [military police] what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment."

Another document reports that a female U.S. military interrogator stroked and applied lotion to a shackled male prisoner, yanked his thumbs back, causing him to grimace in pain, and then "grabbed his genitals."

A broad review of U.S. military interrogation practices conducted by Navy Inspector-General Vice Adm. Albert Church is now in its final stages, and the FBI has prepared a 300-page response to follow-up questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about Mueller’s earlier testimony.

But that response has been "under review" at the Justice Department since last October. Neither it, nor the Church report, is likely to be released publicly soon.

Meanwhile, a British soldier accused of mistreating Iraqi civilian detainees near Basra faces a court martial in Germany today. Three other soldiers from the same regiment who allegedly mistreated prisoners are also expected to face trial later this week.

According to Britain’s attorney general, some of the abuse "apparently involves making the victims engage in sexual activity between themselves." Charges against the four soldiers include assault and indecent assault.

Author: William Fisher

William Fisher writes for Inter Press Service.