Declassified Docs Reveal Pentagon Ignored FBI’s Warnings on Abusive Interrogations
The Justice Department released more documents — or, at least, less-redacted documents — late Friday to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of the government’s obligation in a pending Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
These latest documents provide a glimpse of the early struggles between the FBI and the Pentagon over just how to conduct the “war on terror” and how to interrogate and treat that war’s detainees. Sadly, they reveal that the FBI knew perfectly well — and repeatedly warned Defense Department officials, as well as Justice Department lawyers — that the abusive interrogation techniques being used on detainees at Guantanamo Bay were likely to be ineffective and make subsequent prosecutions impossible.
As one memo says, while the interrogation techniques based on tactics used in the U.S. Army Search, Escape, Resistance and Evasion (SERE) training “may be effective in eliciting tactical intelligence in a battlefield context, the reliability of information obtained using such tactics is highly questionable, not to mention potentially legally inadmissible in court.”
That memo was written in May 2003. The “enhanced” interrogation techniques, such as stress positions and prolonged sleep deprivation, were still being used and justified in memos as late as July 2007. The memo raises several important questions. Did the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers drafting those later memos for the CIA not know about the FBI’s earlier objections? Or did they just dismiss them out of hand? Were they told to ignore those earlier conclusions?
Then there’s the fact that senior officials from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, including the chief psychologist with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service “repeatedly argued for implementation of a rapport-based approach” and “lamented the fact that many DHS [Defense Human Intelligence Services] interrogators seem to believe that the only way to elicit information from uncooperative detainees is to use aggressive techniques on them.”
“Despite objections raised by the [Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI], the DHS initiated an aggressive interrogation plan for #63,” who elsewhere in the document is identified as Mohammed al-Qatani. “This plan incorporated a confusing array of physical and psychological stressors which were designed, presumably, to elicit #63′s cooperation. Needless to say, this plan was eventually abandoned when the DHS realized it was not working and when #63 had to be hospitalized briefly.”
Officials from the Criminal Investigative Task Force and the Behavioral Analysis Unit drafted a letter “reiterating the strengths of the FBI/CITF approach” and providing “a detailed historical record of the development of interagency policies regarding aggressive interrogation techniques in GTMO.” The letter also argued that they were a bad idea.
Not only did the officials not succeed in convincing DHS to abandon the techniques, but the document described how the military and DHS inaccurately portrayed to the Pentagon that the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit approved of and helped design the very techniques that the BAU warned would backfire.
Although we knew before that the FBI had disagreed with the so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques and refused to participate in them, this latest release of previously classified information reveals the extent to which FBI officials made both the legal and practical case to senior Pentagon and Justice Department officials for why the usual rules on interrogations should be followed.
That they were so blatantly ignored suggests more than just bad judgment. It suggests a deliberate indifference to the facts and the law, which cries out for a more thorough investigation.