WASHINGTON — FBI agents observed U.S. soldiers mistreating terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as early as 2002, but the Pentagon has done little to investigate, a letter from a senior agency counter-terrorism official said.
Agents visiting the U.S. naval base prison said they saw military and civilian interrogators using "highly aggressive" techniques to exact information from detainees captured on battlefields in Afghanistan.
In one incident, a soldier reportedly bent a prisoner's thumbs back and "grabbed his genitals." In another, an FBI agent saw a detainee "gagged with duct tape" for refusing to stop chanting from the Koran.
In a third episode, a prisoner allegedly was threatened with a dog and the man was placed for three months in "intense isolation," causing him to experience "extreme psychological trauma."
All three reported incidents were described in a letter this summer from Thomas Harrington, deputy assistant director of the FBI's counter-terrorism division, to Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, head of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. Harrington said that the FBI had detailed its concerns with Pentagon officials after its agents witnessed the questionable treatment.
Harrington also told Ryder in the July 14 letter that an FBI agent reported one interrogator had treated detainees so harshly that they often ended up "curling into a fetal position on the floor and crying in pain."
In the letter, first reported by Associated Press and obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Harrington expressed frustration that the military did not appear to be taking the FBI's allegations seriously.
"I have no record that our specific concerns regarding these three situations were communicated to DOD [the Department of Defense] for appropriate action," he wrote.
However, the Pentagon said Monday that the incidents were under investigation as part of a larger internal inquiry into allegations of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay. The overall investigation has substantiated at least 10 incidents of minor misconduct since 2003. They include a female interrogator climbing on top of a detainee's lap and a guard striking a detainee.
"We report all allegations of mistreatment to the chain of command," Army Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, commander of the joint task force that oversees some 550 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, said Monday. "We take all allegations seriously and investigate each one fully."
The FBI complaints to the Pentagon represent some of the earliest allegations of prisoner abuse, coming a year before revelations of detainee mistreatment at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The FBI's charges have surfaced as criminal trials and investigations center on misconduct at military-run holding facilities.
The Times also obtained copies of e-mails Harrington sent to other FBI officials suggesting that agents told military authorities at Guantanamo Bay that there were proven nonviolent methods for extracting information from prisoners.
In one message, Harrington said the military was involved in "interrogation strategies we not only advised against, but questioned in terms of effectiveness," and that the military often was "producing information that was not reliable."
Harrington added that he personally visited the prison as a senior counter-terrorism official. "I voiced concerns that the intel produced was nothing more than what FBI got using simple investigative techniques" that did not involve violence, he wrote.
In the first incident detailed in the July 14 letter, Harrington wrote that an FBI agent reportedly saw a detainee "grimace in pain" in October 2002 and that the agent was told by a Marine that an interrogator identified only as "Sgt. Stacey" had "grabbed the detainee's thumbs and bent them backwards and indicated that she also grabbed his genitals."
In an aside, "the Marine also implied that her treatment of that detainee was less harsh than her treatment of others," Harrington wrote. The Marine indicated that "he had seen her treatment of other detainees result in detainees curling into a fetal position on the floor and crying in pain."
In the second incident reported that month, an FBI agent said he was observing an interrogation when a civilian contractor asked him to come see something else. The agent was directed to "an unknown bearded, long-haired detainee in another interrogation room. The detainee had been gagged with duct tape that covered much of his head," Harrington said.
The agent asked a soldier whether the detainee was being punished for spitting at interrogators. The soldier "laughed and stated that the detainee had been chanting the Koran and would not stop."
The third case occurred in September or October 2002 when "FBI agents observed that a canine was used in an aggressive manner to intimidate" a detainee. In November of that year, FBI agents realized that the detainee also "had been subjected to intense isolation for over three months … in a cell that was always flooded with light," according to Harrington's letter.
"By late November the detainee was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma" and was "talking to nonexistent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end."
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times