By William Fisher
Though it received thousands of pages of documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding prisoner abuse by the Defense Department (DOD) at the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) charges that the FBI investigation was “sharply scaled back”, records related to the FBI’s investigation are still being withheld, and those it has received are so heavily redacted (blacked out) that they “raise more questions than they answer”.
At the same time, under pressure from Congress, the DOD announced late last week that it would open an investigation into all reports of abuse contained in the newly released FBI documents. Army Brigadier General John T. Furlow will lead the investigation, which could begin this week. Guantanamo’s commanding Army Brigadier General Jay Hood said a military team independent of the Guantanamo mission was needed to find and interview people who had left the post and were no longer under his command.
"The (new FBI) documents raise more questions than they answer," said ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer. "Why did the FBI narrow its investigation? Did the FBI ever conduct follow-up interviews? Did the FBI provide a formal summary of its findings to the Defense Department? If so, why hasn’t the FBI released a copy of this report?" He told IPS that the ACLU “will return to court both to challenge the adequacy of the agencies' searches and to challenge particular redactions.”
The release of these documents follows a federal court order that directed the DOD and other government agencies to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filed by advocacy groups including the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case. The FOIA is a law signed in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson to provide public access to government documents.
Among FBI documents turned over to the ACLU is an email dated December 9, 2002 referring to the "military’s Interview plan" along with the comment, "You won't believe it!"
Other papers received by the ACLU include a heavily redacted document referring to an investigation captioned "Corruption Federal Public Official - Executive Branch," which appears to have been referred to the FBI because of a "conflict of interest." Accompanying this document is an FBI summary of "potentially relevant criminal statutes." The statutes pertain to war crimes, torture, aggravated sexual abuse, and sexual abuse of a minor or ward, which the ACLU said raises the question of why the FBI considered them "relevant."
The new documents also reveal that many of the FBI’s earlier descriptions of abuses came in response to an email from Steve McCraw, the Assistant Director of the FBI’s Office for Intelligence, to more than 500 agents who had been stationed at Guantanamo, asking them to report whether they had observed "aggressive treatment, interrogations or interview techniques" that violated FBI guidelines.
According to subsequent e-mails noting the status of the "special inquiry," 478 responded and 26 reported observations of detainee mistreatment by personnel of other agencies. The 26 summaries were reviewed by FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni, who determined 17 to pertain to "approved DOD techniques." As a result, says Jaffer, “some 17 reports of abuse were not investigated.”
For unknown reasons, the ACLU says, Ms. Caproni declined further investigation of the abuses she considered to follow approved DOD interrogation techniques. The ACLU says “she focused only on those abuses that were not approved by even the DOD’s permissive rules. As a result, only nine reported incidents were tagged for follow-up investigation.”
ACLU Attorney Jaffer charges that “The ACLU has not received information about the follow-up investigation, and a final FBI report about the matter is apparently being withheld.” The ACLU’s review of the documents also shows that other critical records have not been released. For instance, the FBI has withheld a copy of a May 30, 2003 "electronic communication" in which the FBI formally complained to the Defense Department about the treatment of detainees.
These most recent FBI documents were released on the eve of the confirmation hearings of Attorney General-nominee Alberto Gonzales, who is widely thought to be responsible for a memorandum to President Bush providing legal justifications for the use of torture.
Thousands of pages of other FBI documents were received by the ACLU as the result of an earlier FOIA request, and a Federal Court recently ordered the CIA to turn over all documents relating to its internal investigation of prisoner abuse.
Meanwhile, “Newsweek” magazine reports on a related controversy regarding previous testimony to Congress on the prisoner abuse issue by FBI Director Robert Mueller. Some senators are questioning whether Mueller misled the Senate Judiciary Committee when he was questioned about the subject in an appearance last May. According to Newsweek, “At least some of the internal FBI documents indicate that, for nearly a year prior to Mueller’s testimony, top FBI officials were strongly objecting to unorthodox practices — such as hooding and slapping prisoners, sleep deprivation and the use of dogs for intimidation by U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay” (and) “pressing the Pentagon to investigate specific instances of abuse reported by bureau agents assigned to Guantanamo.”
Yet, says the magazine, “when Mueller appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 20, 2004, just a few weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, he gave little hint of the concerns by his own agents about the mistreatment of prisoners — much less the apparently intense dispute between the FBI and the Pentagon over the propriety of the “aggressive” interrogation techniques that had been authorized by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to be used on prisoners at Guantamamo Bay.”
Newsweek says Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, asked Mueller if FBI agents had “encountered objectionable practices involving the treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo?” Leahy followed up: “Is the FBI conducting any investigations involving handling of prisoners in Guantanamo?” Mueller: “No.”
The new documents obtained by the ACLU indicate that prisoner abuse at Guantanamo went beyond anything the government acknowledged.
For example, in one e-mail, dated July 16, 2004, an FBI agent (whose name is deleted) reports seeing one detainee at Guantanamo “sitting on the floor of the interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing.”
In another, dated Aug. 2, 2004, an unidentified FBI agent reports “on a couple of occasions” entering interview rooms at Guantanamo and finding one of the detainees “chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. When I asked the MPs [military police] what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment.”
Another document reports that a female U.S. military interrogator stroked and applied lotion to a shackled male prisoner yanked his thumbs back, causing him .to grimace in pain and then “grabbed his genitals.”
A broad review of U.S. military interrogation practices conducted by Navy Inspector General Vice Adm. Albert Church is now in its final stages, and the FBI has prepared a 300-page response to follow-up questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about Mueller’s earlier testimony. But that response has been “under review” at the Justice Department since October. Neither it, nor the Church report, is likely to be released publicly soon.