Detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were shackled to the floor in fetal positions for more than 24 hours at a time, left without food and water, and allowed to defecate on themselves, an FBI agent who said he witnessed such abuse reported in a memo to supervisors, according to documents released yesterday.
In memos over a two-year period that ended in August, FBI agents and officials also said that they witnessed the use of growling dogs at Guantanamo Bay to intimidate detainees — contrary to previous statements by senior Defense Department officials — and that one detainee was wrapped in an Israeli flag and bombarded with loud music in an apparent attempt to soften his resistance to interrogation.
In addition, several agents contended that military interrogators impersonated FBI agents, suggesting that the ruse was aimed in part at avoiding blame for any subsequent public allegations of abuse, according to memos between FBI officials.
The accounts, gleaned from heavily redacted e-mails and memorandums, were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of an ongoing lawsuit. They suggest that extremely aggressive interrogation techniques were more widespread at Guantanamo Bay than was acknowledged by military officials.
The documents also make it clear that some personnel at Guantanamo Bay believed they were relying on authority from senior officials in Washington to conduct aggressive interrogations. One FBI agent wrote a memo referring to a presidential order that approved interrogation methods “beyond the bounds of standard FBI practice,” although White House and FBI officials said yesterday that such an order does not exist.
Instead, FBI and Pentagon officials said, the order in question was signed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in December 2002 and then revised four months later after complaints from military lawyers that he had authorized methods that violated international and domestic law.
In a Jan. 21, 2004, e-mail, an FBI agent wrote that “this technique [of impersonating an FBI agent], and all of those used in these scenarios, was approved by the DepSecDef,” referring to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz.
Deputy Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in a statement last night that Wolfowitz “did not approve interrogation techniques.” Whitman also said “it is difficult to determine” whether the impersonation technique “was permissible or not,” but that such a tactic was not endorsed by Rumsfeld.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in an interview that the incidents described in the documents “can only be described as torture.”
The government is holding about 550 people detained in the war on terrorism at a prison on the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay. Some have been held for nearly three years without charges or access to attorneys. Several dozen have taken advantage of a June ruling by the Supreme Court and petitioned federal courts to challenge their imprisonment.
Some of the FBI memos were written this year after a request from agency headquarters for firsthand accounts of abuse of detainees, officials said.
An overall theme of the documents is a chasm between the interrogation techniques followed by the FBI and the more aggressive tactics used by some military interrogators. “We know what’s permissible for FBI agents but are less sure what is permissible for military interrogators,” one FBI official said in a lengthy e-mail on May 22, 2004.
In another e-mail, dated Dec. 5, 2003, an agent complained about military tactics, including the alleged use of FBI impersonators. “These tactics have produced no intelligence of a threat neutralization nature to date and . . . have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee,” the agent wrote. “If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD interrogators will be not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [by] the ‘FBI’ interrogators.”
In another e-mail, an unidentified FBI agent describes at least three incidents involving Guantanamo detainees being chained to the floor for extended periods of time and being subjected to extreme heat, extreme cold or “extremely loud rap music.”
“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,” the FBI agent wrote on Aug. 2, 2004. “Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more.”
In one case, the agent continued, “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.”
In an e-mail dated Aug. 16, 2004, an agent from the FBI’s inspection division reported observing a detainee sitting in an interview room at Guantanamo Bay’s Camp Delta “with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing.” The same agent said that he or she did not witness any “physical assaults” while at Guantanamo.
A detainee, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi of Sudan, an alleged paymaster for al Qaeda and accused associate of Osama bin Laden, has claimed similar abuse in documents contesting his imprisonment that were filed in federal court in Washington last month. He alleges Guantanamo Bay interrogators wrapped prisoners in an Israeli flag, showed them pornographic photos and forced them to be present while others had sex. Military officials denied his allegations.
The documents also contain what may be the first witness account of the use of military dogs to intimidate detainees during interrogations at Guantanamo Bay. In an undated and heavily redacted memo, initially classified “Secret,” an FBI employee reported that members of the agency’s Behavioral Analysis Unit had witnessed the use of “loud music/bright lights/growling dogs” during interviews by U.S. military personnel at the island prison.
The Army was embarrassed by photos of snarling military dogs and cowering detainees in Iraq, which officials acknowledged later had violated the Geneva Conventions protections for military prisoners. But officials have maintained steadfastly that the technique was never used in Guantanamo Bay.
The issue is particularly pertinent to statements by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who commanded the Guantanamo Bay prison from October 2002 to March 2004. Miller has acknowledged urging in September 2003 that military dogs be sent to Iraq to help deter prison violence, but he told a team of Defense Department investigators in June — and many reporters — that “we never used the dogs for interrogations while I was in command” of Guantanamo Bay.
Miller’s statement contradicted other sworn testimony — by the senior military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad — that Miller acknowledged using dogs to intimidate prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and recommended a similar approach in Iraq.
Miller, who took over the Iraq prison operation after the Abu Ghraib abuses became public, recently left that job for an assignment as the Army’s chief of installations and could not be reached through Army and Pentagon spokesmen yesterday. Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers, a spokesman on Guantanamo Bay issues, said he had no comment on the allegation of use of dogs.
Staff writer Peter Baker and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.