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E-Mails Show FBI Agents Fretted About Prisoner Abuse

Times Staff Writer

Senior FBI officials in Iraq were reluctant to investigate allegations of prisoner abuse for fear that the bureau would lose access to high-value detainees and the stream of intelligence from interrogations, according to documents released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

But the documents also contain numerous complaints from FBI agents working at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The agents said that military interrogators were using abusive, ineffective and potentially illegal methods. One e-mail described an interrogation in which a prisoner was put under a strobe light and shown gay pornographic films.

The e-mails were among more than 50 documents obtained from U.S. agencies as part of a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act by the ACLU.

The documents suggest that harsh interrogation methods were approved of and encouraged by high-ranking Pentagon officials and commanders. In an internal FBI memo dated May 2004, an unidentified bureau official complained that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s public pronouncements about interrogation policies were misleading.

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“I know these techniques were approved at high levels within DoD and used” on specific prisoners, said the official, referring to the Department of Defense. The names of the author and recipients of the e-mail were blanked out on the version obtained and released by the ACLU, and no information was provided to indicate how the author knew the techniques were authorized at top levels.

In an e-mail from May 2003, Guantanamo’s prison commander, Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, was described as favoring aggressive methods “despite FBI assertions that such methods could easily result in the elicitation of unreliable and legally inadmissible information.”

Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer, said the documents offered new evidence that military leaders “endorsed interrogation methods that violate both domestic and international law.”

A Pentagon spokesman described the ACLU documents as “old information,” and said that 12 investigations and reviews had found there was no Defense Department policy that encouraged or condoned abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

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The FBI memos had been previously released to the ACLU in December 2004, but with most of their contents censored.

Although prior documents have revealed tension between the FBI and military interrogators over the methods used at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, the latest documents also show that senior FBI officials in Iraq were reluctant to be drawn into any investigation of prisoner abuses.

Well before the Abu Ghraib scandal became public -- along with the photographs that triggered it -- one of the FBI’s highest-ranking officials in Iraq was warning higher-ups that the bureau should steer clear of any investigative role.

“Our access to detainees at the prison Abu Ghraib is a central part of our mission and very important to our ability to get the job done,” senior FBI agent Edward Lueckenhoff wrote in an e-mail Jan. 24, 2004.

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The FBI should avoid being drawn into any abuse inquiry because it was “outside the scope” of the bureau’s mission in Iraq, Lueckenhoff wrote.

“Second, we need to maintain goodwill and relations with those operating the prison,” he wrote. “Our involvement in the investigation of the alleged abuse might harm our liaison.”

At the time, the military quietly launched an inquiry of abuses at Abu Ghraib after a guard had slipped a computer disc containing gruesome photos of prisoner mistreatment under the door of military investigators.

Lueckenhoff was among the highest-ranking FBI officials in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, with authority over agents conducting interrogations at Abu Ghraib. He retired last year as the special agent in charge of the bureau’s Dallas field office, said Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman in Washington. Lueckenhoff could not be reached for comment.

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Kolko said it was not within the FBI’s jurisdiction overseas to investigate allegations of detainee abuse, but that agents had reported their findings through their chain of command and cooperated in Pentagon investigations and reviews.

Most documents released Thursday were communications among FBI officials and others stationed at the U.S.-run camp at Guantanamo Bay. One e-mail appeared to have been written by an FBI agent weeks into his assignment there.

He described witnessing interrogators with the Defense Human Intelligence Service “showing a detainee homosexual porn movies and using a strobe light in the room.” The intelligence service, often referred to as DHS, is part of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency.

The methods so disturbed the e-mail’s author, who was watching from an adjacent booth, that “we moved our interview to a different room,” he wrote.

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Another FBI e-mail complained of cases “in which DHS personnel have awaited the departure of an FBI supervisor before embarking on aggressive, unilateral interrogation plans which they knew would not have been endorsed by the FBI.”

A Defense Intelligence Agency spokesman said he had not reviewed the documents and could not comment on their contents.


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