FBI Claims More Arab Prisoners Abused

Times Staff Writer

FBI agents are increasingly complaining about what they consider abusive physical and mental torture by military officials against prisoners held in Iraq and Cuba, including lighted cigarettes stuck in detainees’ ears and Arab captives being humiliated with Israeli flags wrapped around them, according to new documents released today.

The FBI records are the latest set of documents obtained by the ACLU in its lawsuit against the federal government and include instances in which bureau officials were disgusted that military interrogators pretended to be FBI agents and used the scheme as a “ruse” to glean intelligence information from prisoners.

In addition, the FBI complained that military interrogators have gone far beyond the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture and have followed an apparently new executive order from President Bush that permits the use of dogs and other techniques to harass prisoners.


“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 last May, well after the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison had become public.

“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. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 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 Bush executive order.

The FBI documents did not include a copy of the Bush order, or make clear when it was signed. But it described the order as allowing interrogation tactics that are forbidden for FBI agents, who routinely interview some of the most notorious crime suspects in this country.

According to FBI officials, the Bush order approved interrogation tactics that include “sleep deprivation and stress positions,” as well as “loud music, interrogators yelling at subjects and prisoners with hoods on their heads.”

Other White House documents surfaced earlier this year in which the president was given legal advice that the detainees are enemy combatants and not strictly prisoners of war, and that therefore the Geneva Conventions may not always apply in the post-Sept. 11 war against terrorism.

Nevertheless Jameel Jaffer, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, maintained that “the methods that the Defense Department has adopted are illegal, immoral and counterproductive.”

He added that the ACLU, which has been obtaining torture 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 today, FBI officials expressed disgust upon learning that military interrogators posed as FBI agents in their interviews with prisoners.

They said they had learned that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had approved the “ruse,” and that it actually had an adverse effect, getting little “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, DoD 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 memo last July 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.”

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 lit cigarettes into the detainees’ ear openings and unauthorized interrogations.”

The supervisor added that some 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 last May, and in July, Army criminal investigators were reviewing “the alleged rape of a juvenile male detainee at Abu Ghraib prison.”

Still other agents gave more detailed accounts of abuse.

In June, for instance, an agent from the Washington field office reported that an Abu Ghraib detainee was “cuffed” and placed into a position the military called “The Scorpion” hold. Then, according to what the prisoner told the FBI, he was doused with cold water, dropped onto barbed wire, dragged by his feet and punched in the stomach.

In Cuba, a detainee in May, 2002, was reportedly spat upon and then beaten when he attempted to roll onto his stomach 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.

Another agent reported this past 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 18-24 hours or more,” the agent wrote.

Sometimes, he reported, the room was chilled to where a “barefooted detainee was shaking with cold.” Other times, the air-conditioning was turned off and the temperature in the unventilated room rose to well over 100 degrees.

“The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him,” the agent reported. “He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.”

The FBI documents also included a report about a prisoner in Cuba whose legs were injured and who said he lied about being a terrorist for fear that otherwise the U.S. military would amputate him.

“He indicated he was injured severely and in a lot of pain,” the FBI wrote. 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.”