WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration’s top security officials ignored FBI concerns over the abusive treatment of terrorism suspects, which one agent called “borderline torture,” a four-year Justice Department probe found.
The FBI, alarmed by interrogation techniques such as the use of snarling dogs and forced nudity, clashed with the Defense Department and CIA over their use, said the 370-page report released on Tuesday by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Critics say the techniques employed by the CIA and U.S. military in questioning terrorism suspects captured after the September 11 attacks amounted to torture.
FBI agents participated interrogations and still do, but bureau Director Robert Mueller directed agents in 2002 not to participate in coercive questioning, the report said.
The FBI and Justice Department officials raised concerns over the abusive interrogations with the National Security Council, which comprises top security-agency officials, and with officials at the Guantanamo Bay detention center for terrorism suspects.
“Ultimately, neither the FBI nor the DoJ had a significant impact on the practices of the military with respect to the detainees,” the report said.
The report quotes an FBI agent as objecting that the CIA’s interrogation of 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.”
Specific interrogation techniques for Abu Zubaydah were blacked out in the report as classified information, but the CIA has acknowledged he was one of three suspects subjected to “waterboarding,” a form of simulated drowning.
The report cites techniques used in Guantanamo, Afghanistan or Iraq including a “frequent flyer program” of sleep disruption, prolonged “short shackling” of hands and feet, or wrapping a detainee’s head in duct tape. It cited an instance in which a female interrogator at Guantanamo grabbed a detainee’s genitals and a guard explained her purpose was “to cause him pain.”
It also said a U.S. Marine captain questioning suspected September 11 conspirator Mohammed al-Qahtani squatted over a Koran, which provoked Qahtani to lunge at the Marine and the holy book before he was quickly subdued.
The report said Mueller instructed agents in August 2002, about eight months after interrogations began at Guantanamo Bay, not to participate in joint interrogations using coercion, in keeping with longtime bureau policy.
But the agency gave ineffective guidance on whether abuse should be reported for further investigation, it said.
In 2004 agents were required to report abusive conduct they suspected was beyond the authority of the interrogator. But agents told Justice Department investigators they often did not know what techniques the military authorized.
The report also said there are “significant and unresolved” problems with the FBI’s continued involvement in interrogations of prisoners who have been interviewed by the CIA, which has fewer restraints on interrogation techniques.
Mueller said last week the FBI is still helping to get information from detainees and prepare terrorism cases against suspects at Guantanamo Bay, despite differences with the CIA over interrogation techniques.
He said the agency continues to follow its guidelines. “The policy of the bureau ... is not to use coercion,” he said.
The Justice Department investigators surveyed about 1,000 FBI agents for the report and interviewed more than 230 witnesses.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham