W. House ignored FBI concerns on prisoner abuse -probe

(Adds reaction, Qahtani suicide attempt)

WASHINGTON, May 20 (Reuters) - Top Bush administration security officials ignored FBI concerns over abusive treatment of terrorism suspects, which one agent called "borderline torture," a four-year Justice Department probe found.

The FBI clashed with the Pentagon and CIA over interrogation techniques including snarling dogs, sexual provocation and forced nudity, said the 370-page report, released on Tuesday by the Justice Department's inspector general.

Critics say such techniques inflicted on terrorism suspects captured after the Sept. 11 attacks amounted to torture. The report covers late 2001 to the end of 2004.

FBI agents joined in terrorism interrogations and still do, but bureau Director Robert Mueller directed agents in 2002 to not participate in coercive questioning, the report said.

The FBI and Justice Department officials raised concerns with the National Security Council, which comprises top security-agency officials, and with officials at the Guantanamo Bay detention center for terrorism suspects, the report said. They argued the abusive interrogations were counterproductive.

"Ultimately, neither the FBI nor the DoJ had a significant impact on the practices of the military with respect to the detainees," it said.

The National Security Council was headed then by President George W. Bush and included Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, now secretary of state.

"The White House, the Defense Department, and the CIA were ignoring advice that was coming from people who were charged with enforcement of the law," said Chris Anders, senior legislative council of the American Civil Liberties Union.


The report is the first to show a role by Rice in the prisoner-abuse issue, Anders said.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said "abuse or inhumane treatment of prisoners is not, and never has been, US policy." Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman referred to the military's 2005 report into the charges, which "determined that there was no evidence of torture or inhumane treatment."

The Pentagon stopped authorizing some abusive techniques in 2003, and Congress in 2005 banned inhumane treatment of prisoners. The CIA says it has not used "waterboarding," a form of simulated drowning, in five years.

But Bush in March vetoed legislation that would ban the CIA from using waterboarding and other abusive techniques.

Democrats in Congress vowed to hold hearings on the report and faulted FBI and Justice Department leaders for not taking stronger action to halt abuses. "This remains a sorry chapter in our nation's history," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.

The new report quotes an FBI agent as objecting that the CIA's interrogation of suspected senior al Qaeda commander Abu Zubaydah was "borderline torture," and said at one point an agent helped care for him in the hospital "even to the point of cleaning him up after bowel movements."

The CIA has acknowledged Zubaydah was one of three suspects subjected to waterboarding, but the report blacked out as classified information interrogation techniques used on him.

The report says techniques used in Guantanamo or Iraq included sleep disruption, prolonged "short shackling" of hands and feet or wrapping a detainee's head in duct tape. A female interrogator grabbed a detainee's genitals to inflict pain.

It also said a U.S. Marine captain questioning suspected Sept. 11 conspirator Mohammed al-Qahtani squatted over a Koran, provoking Qahtani to lunge at the Marine and the holy book.


Qahtani attempted suicide in April by cutting himself after learning he faced charges -- later thrown out -- that could carry the death penalty, his lawyer said on Monday.

In 2004 FBI agents were required to report abusive conduct. But agents told Justice Department investigators they often did not know what techniques the military authorized.

The FBI's continued involvement in interrogations of prisoners interviewed by the CIA, which has fewer restraints on techniques, may present problems for future legal cases, the report said.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the CIAs interrogation methods had previously been found lawful by the Justice Department and were used only when traditional means of questioning, such as rapport-building, failed.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray and Jeremy Pelofksy in Washington, and Jane Sutton at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba)

Editing by Cynthia Osterman