Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) e-mails released Monday by a civil liberties group provide new details of abuses committed by U.S. military personnel in Iraq and at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, including one note that alluded, possibly incorrectly, to a White House order permitting a number of contentious techniques.
The e-mails make clear that the FBI objected to such techniques, which allegedly included sleep and sensory deprivation, and even the deployment of “military working dogs,” or “MWD,” to intimidate prisoners, as late as August 2004 or four months after photographs of abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in October 2003, became public.
The e-mails, one of which characterizes some methods used by the military as “torture,” are the latest in a series of releases by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of internal government documents about abuses committed in the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism.”
They are being publicly released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request backed up by a federal judge’s order to comply.
“I am responding to your request for feedback on aggressive treatment and improper interview techniques used on detainees at [Guantanamo],” one FBI e-mail dated July 17, 2004 states. “I did observe treatment that was not only aggressive, but personally very upsetting,” it goes on, noting that the objectionable techniques were employed by the military, government contract employees, and a third grouping that was blacked out in the e-mail given to the ACLU.
The names of the author and the recipient of the e-mails were also redacted.
The disclosures were the latest in a series that began three weeks ago, when the Pentagon announced it had launched a criminal investigation into photographs that appeared to show Navy special forces, or SEALs, in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees, and, in one case, pointing a gun to the head of a bloodied prisoner. The photos date back to May 2003.
Two weeks ago, the ACLU and the groups that joined its FOIA lawsuit including Physicians for Human Rights and the Center for Constitutional Rights released records detailing complaints by experts from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) about the beatings and abuse of Iraqi detainees by members of a Special Operation Forces (SOF) task force, who also threatened the DIA officials with retaliation if they reported their observations to higher authorities.
The same batch of documents also reported heated objections by both DIA and FBI officials on the way SOF interrogations at Guantanamo were being carried out and that the generals in charge there, including Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who would later be sent to oversee the detention system in Iraq, insisted they received “their marching orders from the SecDef,” or Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Last week, a new ACLU release featured documents from the Navy that detailed new abuses, including the mock execution of four Iraqi juveniles, while the New York Times reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had issued its own secret directive in August 2003, ordering all of its personnel in Iraq to avoid interrogations carried out by military personnel that involved techniques “beyond questions and answers.”
In addition to cataloguing previously unknown abuses, the latest document release includes one two-page e-mail dated May 22, 2004 that refers to a previously unreported “executive order” allegedly approved by President George W. Bush directly authorizing interrogation techniques that go “beyond the bounds of FBI practice,” including “sleep deprivation, stress positions, [and] loud music.”
But after the ACLU’s release, an FBI spokesperson, who declined to be identified on the record, said the reference to an “executive order” signed by Bush was mistaken and that it was instead “a reference to a Department of Defense communication.” A White House official, who also declined to be identified, also stated that the reference was mistaken.
But Elisa Massimino, head of the Washington Office of Human Rights First, a lawyers’ human rights group, said she was skeptical of those denials.
“We already know that administration lawyers had advanced the view that there is a ‘commander-in-chief’ exception to the constitution, putting the president above the law, so an executive order authorizing outlawed interrogation techniques, however outrageous,would fit that theory,” she noted.
That responsible FBI officials believed there was such an order bolsters the notion that “the White House endorsed unlawful interrogation techniques,” added Massimino.
A Defense Department list of approved techniques, including sleep and sensory deprivation, for use at the detention facility at Guantanamo in interrogations of suspected high-value targets in the “war on terrorism” has previously been disclosed, although the Bush administration insists it was not intended for use in Iraq.
Nonetheless, the memo referring to the “executive order” deals with techniques used in Iraq, further confirmation that methods that were supposed to be confined to suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo did indeed “migrate” elsewhere.
The new releases all firmly establish that the FBI has had serious problems with interrogation methods used by the military, including the impersonation by Pentagon interrogators of FBI officials themselves.
One e-mail, dated December 2003, describes an incident in which military interrogators at Guantanamo impersonated FBI agents while using “torture techniques” against a detainee. It concludes, “If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [by] ‘FBI’ interrogators. The FBI will [be] left holding the bag before the public.”
In a related e-mail from January 2004, the writer notes that “once again, this technique, and all of those used in these scenarios, was approved by the Dep Sec. Def,” or Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
As to the abuses themselves, one June 25, 2004 e-mail entitled ‘Urgent Report’ and sent to various FBI personnel from the agency director recounts particularly serious abuses in Iraq apparently reported by one eyewitness who is not otherwise identified. “He described that such abuses included strangulation, beatings, placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees [sic] ear openings, and unauthorized interrogations.”
The note goes on to say that the individual “was providing this information to the FBI based on his knowledge that [deleted] covered up these abuses.” The document, which may have been written by a senior official from another U.S. agency, apparently goes on to cite the nature of these “cover-up efforts,” but the details were all blacked out.
An Aug. 2, 2004 e-mail from another FBI official recounted what he had observed on a “couple of occasions” in Guantanamo. “I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand [and] foot in a foetal 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.”
“On another occasion, the [air conditioning] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees [Fahrenheit]. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor with a pile of hair next to him. He had been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night,” the official wrote.
While the Bush administration has maintained that, as “illegal combatants,” detainees held at Guantanamo were not entitled to protections guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions, it has maintained that it has treated prisoners “humanely” at all times.
(Inter Press Service)