Neil A. Lewis and David Johnston
21 December 2004
Washington -- FBI agents witnessed abuses of prisoners by U.S. military personnel in Iraq that included detainees being beaten, choked and having lit cigarettes placed in their ears, according to newly released government documents.
The documents, released Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union in connection with a lawsuit accusing the government of being complicit in torture, include accounts by FBI agents who said they saw detainees in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba, being chained in uncomfortable positions for as long as 24 hours and left to urinate and defecate on themselves. An agent wrote that in one case, a detainee who was nearly unconscious may have pulled out much of his hair during the night.
One of the memoranda was addressed to Robert Mueller, the FBI Director, and other senior bureau officials, and it provided the account of someone "who observed serious physical abuses of civilian detainees" in Iraq. The memorandum, data June 24 of this year, was an "Urgent Report," meaning the sender regarded it as a priority. It said the witness "described that such abuses included strangulation, beatings, placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees' ear openings and unauthorized interrogations."
The memorandum said the witness, who was not identified as an agent or an informant, also had asserted that there had been an attempt to cover up these abuses. The memorandum does not provide further details of the abuse, but suggests that such treatment of prisoners in Iraq was the subject of an investigation conducted by the bureau's Sacramento office.
Beyond providing new details about the nature and extent of abuses, the newly disclosed documents are the latest to show that such activities were known to a wide circle of government officials.
The documents, mostly memoranda written by agents to superiors in Washington over the past year, include claims that some military interrogators had posed as FBI officials while using harsh tactics on detainees, both in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay.
In one memorandum, dated December 5, 2003, an agent whose name is blanked out on the document expressed concern about military interrogators posing as FBI agents at the Guantanamo camp. The agent wrote that the memo was intended as an official record of the interrogators' behavior because, "if this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, D.O.D. interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done by 'F.B.I.' interrogators. The F.B.I. will be left holding the bag before the public."
("D.O.D" is an abbreviation for the Department of Defense.)
The documents are in the latest batch of papers to be released by the government in response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to determine the extent, if any, of U.S. participation in the mistreatment of prisoners.
Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said the documents mean that "top government officials can no longer hide from public scutiny by pointing the finger at a few low-ranking soldiers."
Another message sent to FBI officials, including Valerie Caproni, the bureau's top lawyer, recounted witnessing detainees chained in interrogation rooms at Guantanamo, where about 550 prisoners are being held in a detention camp on the edge of a naval base.
The agent, whose name was deleted from the document, wrote on July 29, 2004: "On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee 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 (to) 24 hours or more."
The agent also wrote, "On another occasion, the (air conditioning)
had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room
probably well over 100 degrees. The 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."
Reprinted from The San Francisco Chronicle 21 December 2004.