Saturday, February 25, 2006
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - Military interrogators posing as FBI agents at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, wrapped terrorism suspects in an Israeli flag and forced them to watch homosexual pornography under strobe lights during interrogation sessions that lasted as long as 18 hours, according to one of a batch of FBI memos released Thursday.
FBI agents working at the prison complained about the military interrogators' techniques in e-mails to their superiors from 2002 to 2004, 54 e-mails released by the American Civil Liberties Union showed. The agents tried to get the military interrogators to follow a less coercive approach and warned that the harsh methods could hinder future criminal prosecutions of terrorists because information gained illegally is inadmissible in court.
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was in charge of the prison at the time, overrode the FBI agents' protests, according to the documents.
The memos offer some of the clearest proof yet that the abuses and torture of prisoners in U.S. military custody weren't the isolated actions of low-ranking soldiers but a result of policies approved by senior officials, the ACLU said.
"These documents show that the abuse at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib was not caused by rogue elements but rather it was the consequence of policies that were deliberately adopted by senior military and Pentagon officials," said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer. "We think this should provide further reason to hold senior officials, not just low-ranking soldiers, accountable for the torture of prisoners."
One of the memos said: "Although MGEN (Maj. Gen.) Miller acknowledged positive aspects of (the FBI's) approach, it was apparent that he favored (military) interrogation methods, despite FBI assertions that such methods could easily result in the elicitation of unreliable and legally inadmissible information," said one memo from May 2003, by an agent with the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit.
Miller later left Guantanamo and was sent to Iraq under orders to find better ways of extracting intelligence from prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other American detention facilities. He advocated that guards help set the conditions for interrogations. Photos taken in Abu Ghraib in 2003 showed guards physically abusing and sexually humiliating prisoners.
Lt. Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, called the ACLU's release of the documents "another example of recycling old information." The Pentagon has conducted 12 major investigations and reviews and has never found a "DoD policy that ever encouraged or condoned abuse of detainees at Guantanamo," he said.
The FBI memos originally were released in 2004 under the Freedom of Information Act as part of a lawsuit by the ACLU, but were largely censored. The latest batch contained extensive information that had been blocked out originally.
According to the memos, the FBI favored a law-enforcement approach geared toward collecting evidence that could be used later in prosecutions, while military officials preferred a more psychologically and physically aggressive approach derived from counterinterrogation methods taught at the Army's survival school.
In one e-mail, an FBI agent, whose name was blocked out, described observing interrogation that used pornography and strobe lights. The agent wrote, "We've heard that DHS (defense human intelligence service, part of the Defense Intelligence Agency) interrogators routinely identify themselves as FBI agents and then interrogate a detainee for 16-18 hours using tactics as described above and others (wrapping in Israeli flag, constant loud music, cranking the A/C down, etc). The next time a real agent tries to talk to that guy, you can imagine the result."
Military interrogators "were being encouraged at times to use aggressive interrogation tactics in GTMO (Guantanamo), which are of questionable effectiveness and subject to uncertain interpretation based on law and regulation," said a separate e-mail, dated May 30, 2003. "Not only are these tactics at odds with legally permissible interviewing techniques used by U.S. law enforcement agencies in the United States but they are being employed by personnel in GTMO who appear to have little, if any, experience eliciting information for judicial purposes."
Military interrogators "are adamant that their interrogation strategies are the best ones to use despite a lack of evidence of their success," it said.
The same e-mail complained that the military officer overseeing interrogations, a lieutenant colonel whose name was blocked out, "blatantly misled the Pentagon into believing that the (FBI's behavioral-analysis team) had endorsed the (military's) aggressive and controversial interrogation plan" during a teleconference with Pentagon officials.
That misrepresentation led the FBI agent in charge to take up the interrogation issue with Miller. The agent explained why his team's approach should be used, but Miller remained "biased" in favor of the military's way, the memo said.
Another e-mail, dated May 5, 2004, said detainees were hooded, threatened with violence and humiliated, and that Defense Department employees had portrayed themselves as FBI agents.