Mar. 23, 2005 – In December last year, the American Civil Liberties Union released scores of internal documents it had obtained from the FBI through the Freedom of Information Act. While containing clues about the Bureauâ€™s operations at the military-run detention center in GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Cuba, the emails and reports were heavily redacted by the government before their release to the public.
Now a US Senator has pressured the Justice Department into disclosing some of the previously hidden information in one of the memos, revealing more information about the FBIâ€™s stance on the military interrogation techniques employed at the base.
Among the newly released snippets of text is one in which the author says he discussed the "effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the DoD [interrogation] techniques." The words "(or lack thereof) of the DoD techniques" had previously been blanked out by government censors.
In another newly unredacted portion of the document, the author describes how FBI agents believed the results obtained from some of the military-run interrogations were "suspect at best."
The new text complements a general theme throughout the batch of documents that had accompanied the memo when it was first released. In many of those emails and reports, the FBIâ€™s internal discussion about abuses that agents witnessed while working alongside military personnel and private contractors, reflected unease and frustration about the way some non-FBI personnel conducted detainee interviews.
"I am responding to your request for feedback on aggressive treatment and improper interview techniques used on detainees at GTMO [GuantÃ¡namo]," reads one email, the sender and receiver of which are blanked out. "I did observe treatment that was not only aggressive, but personally very upsetting, although I can't say that this treatment was perpetrated by [FBI] employees. It seemed that these techniques were being employed by the military, government contract employees and [redacted]."
The FBI agents who wrote the emails all insist that no Bureau personnel were involved in any of the abuses they witnessed. Several described hearing or seeing loud music, yelling, or strobe lights, but say they did not know if anything was specifically being done to detainees. Many express frustration with tactics used by other agencies, and describe them as "counterproductive" and outside approved FBI interrogation techniques.
Another memo dated July 13, 2004 from an individual with the FBIâ€™s Critical Incident Response Group, addressed simply to "Inspection," states: "There were many comments made by investigators during my tenure at GTMO that every time the FBI established a rapport with a detainee, the military would step in the detainee would stop being cooperative. The military did not stop the interviews while they were in progress but routinely took control of the detainees when the interview was completed. The next time that detainee was interviewed, his level of cooperation was diminished."
Some detainees released from GuantÃ¡namo have asserted that they were forced to make false confessions under conditions of severe abuse and torture. Human rights lawyers providing legal representation for several GuantÃ¡namo detainees have made similar statements about their clientsâ€™ declarations.
In a July 2004 interview with The NewStandard, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), explained how coercive techniques, solitary confinement and three months of intense interrogations forced two of their clients, Shafiq Rasul and Asif Aqbal, to falsely confess that they had met Osama bin Laden.
"The interrogators at GuantÃ¡namo Bay showed Rasul and Iqbal a video, ostensibly of them with Osama," Ratner explained. "Our clients denied again and again that they were in the video, but the interrogators kept persisting. Finally, after three months, our clients told them what they wanted to hear. Later, however, the British [Secret Intelligence Service] proved that Rasul and Aqbal were in the United Kingdom at the time the video was made."
In response to the newly released information, Jeffrey Fogel, also of CCR, told the Washington Post that he hoped the newly revealed information once kept secret by the Departments of Justice and Defense could become a tool to persuade judges to "look behind" charges based on confessions from detainees who had been interrogated by the military at GuantÃ¡namo.
"An awful lot of cases have been built on information obtained through these kind of coercive interrogation techniques," he said.
As for why the portions of text were blanked out in the first place, a Justice Department spokesperson refused to provide information to the press about the relevance of the initial redactions or say which were requested by the Department of Defense.
In a press statement about the newly released memo, Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), who was responsible for pushing the Justice Department for the revised version, vowed to keep pressing for more revelations.
"The facts related to interrogation practices used against some detainees are slowly being forced to the surface and we will keep pushing for more," Levin said. "Today we were able to obtain some information that had previously been blacked out in an FBI document critical of DOD interrogation practices. As I suspected, the previously withheld information had nothing to do with protecting intelligence sources or methods, and everything to do with protecting DOD from embarrassment."