FBI Agents Complained of Prisoner Abuse, Records Say
FBI agents have lodged repeated complaints of physical and mental mistreatment of prisoners held in Iraq and Cuba, saying in reports that military officials have placed lighted cigarettes in detainees’ ears and humiliated Arab captives by wrapping Israeli flags around them, according to new documents released Monday.
The FBI records, which are among the latest set of documents obtained by the ACLU in its lawsuit against the federal government, also include instances in which bureau officials said they were disgusted by military interrogators who pretended to be FBI agents as a “ruse” to glean intelligence from prisoners.
The FBI complained that military interrogators had gone beyond the restrictions of the Geneva Convention that prohibit torture; the agents cited Bush administration guidelines that permit the use of dogs and other techniques to harass prisoners.
The records disclosed Monday are the second set in which FBI officials objected to military detention practices, and are notable because some instances occurred after revelations this year of prisoner abuses at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Earlier this month, the ACLU released records in which FBI agents complained about prisoner abuse in 2002. The new records show FBI complaints have continued through 2004. In each case, the names of the agents were removed before the records were released.
FBI officials participate in interrogations at military prisons and lockups as part of the bureau’s counterterrorism duties. FBI agents have been stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq.
“We know what’s permissible for FBI agents but are less sure what is permissible for military interrogators,” the FBI’s “on-scene commander-Baghdad” complained to his bureau colleagues in May. “We cannot have our [FBI] personnel embedded with military units abroad, which regularly use these interrogation techniques.”
Another unidentified FBI agent told his superiors in July that he had witnessed military interrogators and government contract employees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay using “aggressive treatment and improper interview techniques” on prisoners.
“I did observe treatment that was not only aggressive, but personally very upsetting,” he said.
At the Pentagon, Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers, a military spokesman, said the Defense Department would have no comment about the FBI records or the administration guidelines that were the subject of complaints by agents.
The FBI agents referred to what they described as a new executive order on prisoner treatment by President Bush. They described the order as allowing interrogation tactics that were forbidden for FBI agents. The records did not include a copy of the Bush order, or make clear exactly when it was signed. Pentagon officials would not comment on whether there was any new order.
According to FBI officials, the Bush order approved interrogation tactics that included “sleep deprivation and stress positions,” as well as “loud music, interrogators yelling at subjects and prisoners with hoods on their heads.”
Earlier this year, White House documents and legal memos outlined the administration’s legal view that enemy combatants were not strictly prisoners of war, and that therefore the Geneva Convention might not always apply in the post-Sept. 11 war against terrorism. Iraqi detainees always have been considered POWs.
Nevertheless Jameel Jaffer, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, maintained that “the methods that the Defense Department had adopted were illegal, immoral and counterproductive.”
He added that the ACLU, which has been obtaining detention records under a lawsuit it filed against the federal government, finds it “astonishing that these methods appear to have been adopted as a matter of policy by the highest levels of government.”
In many of the records released Monday, FBI officials expressed repulsion upon learning that military interrogators posed as FBI agents in their interviews with prisoners.
They said they had learned the “ruse” was approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and that it had an adverse effect on obtaining “cooperation” from prisoners.
In one instance, an FBI official told his superiors in a December 2003 e-mail that impersonation “tactics have produced no intelligence.” The official added that these techniques actually “have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee.”
The FBI official added: “If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, [Defense Department] 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.”
Another FBI official, who worked in the bureau’s counterterrorism division and was assigned to Guantanamo Bay, wrote in a July 2003 memo that military interrogators often interrupted efforts underway by FBI agents.
“Every time the FBI established a rapport with a detainee, the military would step in and the detainee would stop being cooperative,” the FBI official wrote. “The military did not stop the interviews while they were in progress but routinely took control of the detainee when the interview was completed.
“The next time that detainee was interviewed, his level of cooperation was diminished,” the official said.
Many agents assigned to Iraq and Cuba reported witnessing incidents of abuse by military units or civilian contractors.
In a June “urgent report” to the FBI director from the Sacramento field office, for example, a supervising special agent described abuses such as “strangulation, beatings, placement of lighted cigarettes into the detainees’ ear openings and unauthorized interrogations.”
The supervisor added that some military officials “were engaged in a cover-up of these abuses.”
In other instances, a female prisoner “indicated she was hit with a stick,” according to a memo from May 2003.
In July, Army criminal investigators were reviewing “the alleged rape of a juvenile male detainee at Abu Ghraib prison.” It was not clear whether the incident was related to a previous report of a boy who was raped by a contractor.
Other agents gave more details of alleged abuses.
In a June instance, an agent from the Washington field office reported that an Abu Ghraib detainee complained he was cuffed and placed into an uncomfortable physical position that the military called “the Scorpion” hold. Then, the prisoner told the FBI, he was doused with cold water, dropped onto barbed wire, dragged by his feet and punched in the stomach.
An FBI official in a July 30 e-mail message described an incident at Guantanamo Bay that he found bothersome: “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 flashing.”
He said the captive was in the custody of military officials at the time.
“Such techniques were not allowed nor approved by FBI policy,” the agent wrote.
One FBI report said a Guantanamo Bay detainee in May 2002 was spat upon and then beaten when he tried to protect himself. At one point, soldiers apparently were “beating him and grabbed his head and beat it into the cell floor,” knocking him unconscious, the report said.
Another agent reported in August that while in Cuba he often saw detainees 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 for 18 to 24 hours or more,” the agent wrote.
Sometimes, he reported, the room was chilled to where a “barefooted detainee was shaking with cold.”
Other times, he said, the air-conditioning was turned off and the temperature in the unventilated room rose to well over 100 degrees.
He said one detainee “was 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.”
The FBI documents also included a report of a prisoner in Cuba whose legs were injured and who said he had lied about being a terrorist out of fear that the U.S. military would otherwise have his legs amputated.
“He indicated he was injured severely and in a lot of pain,” the FBI documents said, yet the prisoner constantly was being asked whether he had attended a terrorist camp in Afghanistan. The agent wrote that the prisoner “stated he wanted to receive decent medical treatment, and felt the only way to get it was to tell the Americans what they wanted to hear.”