No aberration

Memos from FBI agents complaining about treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo provide the clearest account yet of abuse sanctioned by the Bush administration.

Published December 22, 2004 3:53PM (EST)

FBI agents repeatedly complained about the torture of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and in Iraq and believed their eyewitness accounts of beatings, strangulation and other abuse were being repressed, official memos show. Even after heavy censorship, the memos, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, contain graphic details of abuse in which military and government interrogators put lighted cigarettes in detainees' ears, spat on them, knocked them unconscious or resorted to deliberate humiliation. In an e-mail dated July 30, one FBI official writes: "I saw a detainee sitting on the floor of the interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing."

The documents, which largely appear to be e-mails from field agents to their superiors, describe growing FBI discomfort with the interrogation methods in use at Guantánamo and in Iraq. They provide the most detailed account yet of the methods of interrogation sanctioned by the Bush administration in the "war on terror." They also reinforce the position of human rights groups that the abuse of detainees at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq was a product of a new gloves-off policy.

"They provide disturbing evidence that the Defense Department adopted inhuman interrogation methods, methods that the FBI described as torture," said Jameel Jaffer, an attorney at the ACLU. "The Department of Defense adopted these policies. They weren't just a matter of an aberration, or low-level soldiers engaging in abuse."

There was no comment from the Pentagon.

The documents suggest that FBI officials involved in questioning at Guantánamo and in Iraq were frequent witnesses to interrogation practices that went against FBI policy. An urgent report last June to FBI Director Robert Mueller describes how an official came forward after witnessing strangulation and burning. It said the account was "based on his knowledge that ... were engaged in a cover-up of these abuses."

Another memo, dated Jan. 21, 2004, which discusses a practice by some interrogators of impersonating FBI agents, mentions Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, suggesting that the policy was approved high in the Pentagon. "This technique, and all of those used in these scenarios, was approved by the Dep Sec Def," reads the memo. The FBI agents believed that by impersonating agents, military interrogators were trying to exploit the rapport the agency had established with some inmates.

The agents believed that such tactics produced no useful intelligence; they also threatened the FBI's image. "If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done by the 'FBI' interrogators," a Dec. 2003 memo warns.

In a document dated last July, an FBI agent at Guantánamo tells his supervisors he was upset by the interrogation methods used by military interrogators and government contractors. "I did observe treatment that was not only aggressive, but personally very upsetting," the memo said. The treatment included chaining detainees to the floor in the fetal position and subjecting them to extreme heat or cold. "Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 24 hours or more," one memo said.

By Suzanne Goldenberg

MORE FROM Suzanne Goldenberg

Related Topics ------------------------------------------