This diary is part of the FOIA: Detention Practices Project initiated by Susan Hu and employing many members of the Daily Kos and Booman Tribune communities. It is part one of a report I am preparing regarding the information about detention practices disclosed in documents released by the FBI to the ACLU on May 19, 2005. Part 1 contains a summary of those disclosures as well as background information to help put these documents in context. Part 2, which I hope to have completed by the end of the week will go into more detail about these disclosures, particularly the allegations of physical and psychological torture and abuse of detainees which are described there.
More after the fold . . .
Documents the FBI released to the ACLU on May 19, 2005, pursuant to a Federal Court Order, give us a picture, albeit incomplete, into the workings of what Amnesty International has called the “American Gulag”: the series of camps and prisons in Cuba, Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world employed by the US Department of Defense (“DOD”) to detain individuals captured in connection with the Bush Administration’s putative “War on Terror.” Specifically, the FBI documentation gives us a glimpse of what life was like for the detainees inside the prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay and, to a lesser extent, prisons at the Bagram and Kandahar Airbases in Afghanistan. They also give us a description of how these persons were treated by our allies, the Northern Alliance and Pakistan, prior to being delivered into US hands.
The most damning aspect of the documents is the numerous recitation of physical and psychological abuse contained in the FBI’s Form FD-302 interrogation reports of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. These reports contain the allegations of abuse that detainees made to their FBI interrogators. They include frequent claims by detainees of beatings while in the hands of their US captors, some resulting in serious injuries that required medical attention such as cuts, broken shoulders and concussions, and at least one claim that a “jihadi” was beaten to death by US soldiers. Other prisoners allege that they were refused medical attention, including one claim that US soldiers in Afghanistan refused to allow medical personnel to treat his bullet wounds until he agreed to confess he was a member of Al Qaida.
Threats of torture and death by interrogators are described, as well as the use of sleep deprivation and depriving detainees of food as interrogation tactics. Threats of rendition to other countries are also alleged, as are incidents involving sexual humiliation of the detainees, including being stripped naked and forced to masturbate in the presence, or at the direction, of female soldiers. Detainees describe that buckets of human waste were dumped on them, that they were spit upon and cursed at by their guards, that they were held in isolation in freezing cold cells, that their beards and heads were shaved, that they were deprived of their copies of the Koran and that copies of the Koran were mistreated and desecrated by their guards, including the now infamous claim, reported by Newsweek, that a guard flushed the Koran down a toilet.
The reports also show evidence of the mental stress the detainees were under: their depression, self-abuse and plans for mass suicide attempts. Their weariness and despair, and their anger and frustration with their captivity. Some detainees appear to be innocent of any involvement with either the Taliban or Al Qaida. Many others give the impression of being mere underlings, naïve idealists who came to Afghanistan to fight the jihad against the Northern Alliance and the US out of support for what they perceived to be the legitimate moral rulers of Afghanistan, the Taliban. Others, clearly appear to be high level Taliban commanders or members of Al Qaida despite protestations to the contrary. Nonetheless, almost all of them describe some level of abuse by US forces during their detention.
In addition to the interrogation reports, there are two other sets of documents. One is a report from FBI interrogators to the US State Department describing their evaluations of prisoners held by the Northern Alliance at Sherberghan Prison in December 2002. This document corroborates the stories of numerous deaths that occurred when Northern Alliance commanders transported their prisoners in sealed freight containers without food or sufficient air. The other documents are emails from FBI agents at the Bagram Air Base to their superiors in May 2004 requesting immediate guidance regarding their proposed participation in military interrogations where “hard approach techniques” were the rule. Though heavily redacted, these emails may contain the most damning evidence of abuse, since they do not rely on the claims of detainees, but are based on direct observations by FBI agents who had witnessed how the military conducted its interrogations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The palpable concern of these agents regarding their proposed involvement in these “techniques” can be clearly discerned even though large portions of their content has been kept from public disclosure on “national security” and “privacy” grounds by the Department of Defense.
A Summary of the Documents
Interrogation Reports. Most of the documents released on May 19th are FBI interrogation reports of detainee “interviews” conducted at Guantanamo Bay (hereafter “Gitmo”). In total, there are 104 of these interrogation reports, almost always completed on a federal form FD-302 used for reporting information that may become testimony. They cover the period from April 6, 2002 through July 31, 2003.
Though often heavily redacted to delete “sensitive information”, these reports include allegations by the detainees of both physical and psychological abuse at the hands of US soldiers, many of which rise to the level of torture. They also list detainee claims of torture and abuse while held by our “allies”, Pakistan and the Northern Alliance, prior to being turned over to US forces. What is more, the documents detail numerous allegations of the mistreatment and desecration of the Koran at Gitmo by guards and interrogators, including the now infamous claim, reported in Newsweek, of a guard flushing a detainee’s copy of the Koran down a toilet.
The other documents released on May 19th to the ACLU are communications by FBI agents working in Afghanistan.
December, 2002 Fax. The first of these is a 42 page fax, dated December 9, 2002, from the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (“CJIS”) Programs Development Section to the US State Department summarizing the work of an FBI team deployed to Sherberghan Prison in Afghanistan to process suspected Taliban and Al Qaida members held there by the Northern Alliance. This document described the FBI team’s assessment of prisoners they interviewed at Sherberghan, and incidentally recorded the charges that hundreds of prisoners had died when they were transported by the Northern Alliance in large freight container trucks to the prison (previously documented by many stories in US and UK media, including reports in The Daily Telegraph, CNN and Newsweek, among others).
May, 2004 Emails. The last group of documents are emails, dated May, 2004, from FBI agents in Afghanistan seeking guidance from their superiors with respect to their participation in military interrogations at the Bagram prison facility, and in the field with US forces. Though very heavily redacted, the emails make clear the agents’ concerns with the manner in which the military interrogations were being conducted. One email euphemistically referred to it as the military’s “hard approach techniques.”
The emails also refer to concerns expressed by FBI agents who had observed interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison facility in Iraq. The agents were so concerned about the interrogation “techniques” employed by the US military that they bypassed the normal chain of command by sending them to Frank Battle, Chief of the FBI’s Counter Terrorism Division’s Operational Response Section, and Tom Harrington, the FBI’s Counter Terrorism Assistant Deputy Director. These field agents were specifically reprimanded for doing this, and instructed not to send further emails on these issues to Battle and Harrington, but to communicate only with their immediate superiors.
The Interrogators at Guantanamo
Each report lists the persons present at the interview. Some interrogations described in these reports were solely conducted by special agents of the FBI, but often they were assisted by other “interviewers” from various branches of the US government. On a few occasions local law enforcement officers from the Port of Seattle, the Dallas Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety were also present.
The most common interrogators, in addition to the FBI , were members of the various military investigative services: the Navy’s Criminal Investigative Service (“NCIS”), the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (“AFOSI”) and the Army Criminal Investigation Division (“CID”). In addition, at various times, ATF and Secret Service agents also appeared as interrogators. Each of these individuals, whether from the FBI, the ATF, the Secret Service, or the US military, belonged to the Criminal Investigation Task Force (“CITF”). According to a statement by OSI Commander, Brig. Gen. Eric Patterson, published in the July/August 2003 edition of Global Reliance Magazine (and posted at the AFOSI website) the CITF was purportedly established by the Department of Defense to investigate non-U.S. citizen detainees suspected of illegal activities as affiliates of Al Qaida or other “enemies of the state.”
In addition to the interrogators themselves, translators were usually present. Generally these were either civilian linguists who contracted with the DOD, or military translators.
Little can be discerned about the interrogators themselves since only information regarding the detainees is included in the reports. What we can know is that, according to the reports, none of these interviews involved the employment of physical abuse ,or threats of abuse, in order to obtain information. Indeed, many of the detainees seem to make a point of complaining about their mistreatment at the hands of other US personnel to the FBI in these sessions. While not every prisoner is cooperative or willing to talk to them, it does appear that for many detainees the FBI and other CITF interrogators are seen as being less hostile to them than the guards or the other military interrogators are viewed. Some detainees even make a point of stating that they hold the FBI agents in respect because they are treated with respect by them. Whether this is true or not, the reports give the impression that the FBI had developed a greater rapport with many of the detainees than other US officials and soldiers at the prison.
The Detainees at Gitmo
Who are they? Not one of the detainees are identified by name (just as none of the interrogators are identified). Specific information about their country of origin has been deleted. It’s very difficult to know who they are or where they came from or even if these detainees are a representative sample of those being held at Gitmo, since we don’t know if these reports include all detainees interviewed by the FBI or if they represent all of the interviews the FBI conducted. Nor do we know if the FBI interviewed all or only a portion of those who were held at Gitmo during this time (April 2002 through July 2003). However, by studying the content of the unredacted portions of these interrogation reports we can make some fairly educated guesses.
First, most of these detainees appear to have been captured in Afghanistan. We know this because many of the questions asked by interrogators request information regarding why a detainee went to Afghanistan, what they did there, and if they fought for the Taliban or under Al Qaida’s direction. In addition, the majority of detainees freely admit they were taken into custody in Afghanistan, almost always initially by forces of the Northern Alliance, before being turned over to American forces, claims that the reports do not show were ever disputed by their interrogators.
Of these detainees, many of them apparently are Arabs who came to Afghanistan. We can safely assume this to be the case based on the questions asked, questions such as: Why did you come to Afghanistan? Why did you leave (redacted name of country)? References are also made in the reports as to the languages being spoken by the detainees, with spoken Arabic being a pretty good sign of the detainees origin outside Afghanistan. Native Afghanis are not asked these types of questions, and the language they speak, when it is recorded in the reports, is always Pushtu, or one of the other languages native to Afghanistan. Indeed, a common complaint in the reports is that the detainee is housed with individuals who do not speak his language.
A few detainees appear to have been captured outside of Afghanistan, and turned over to American forces by other countries. References are made by some of prior detention by Pakistani security forces. In other cases the country who took them into custody is not named. The interrogations of these prisoners are also different, with many more questions about Al Qaida activities, command structures, membership, etc. than are asked of those who were apparently captured in Afghanistan. In addition, these prisoners are usually not questioned as much about what they did in Afghanistan. The presence of Secret Service agents and/or local law enforcement officials at some of the interrogations suggest that a few may even have been taken into custody in the US, or had traveled there prior to being captured. The FBI’s interrogation reports on these detainees are usually longer than average and contain more redactions.
None of the detainees in these reports is described as female. There may have been women held in detention at Gitmo, but the FBI either didn’t interrogate any, or did not release any reports of those interviews if they did. Secondly, none of the detainees appear to be from Iraq. There may be Iraqis there now, but none of these reports, covering the period from April 2002 until July 2003, gives any indication that Iraqis were being held there at that time. None of these reports describe questioning detainees about anything having to do with Saddam Hussein or Iraq (or at least not in the unredacted portions of the text).
Their mental and physical condition. Although it wasn’t an emphasis of the interrogations, many of the reports take note of the detainees’ health issues, including descriptions of their mental condition, either through observation, or pursuant to self reports by the detainees themselves to their interrogators. Physical complaints range from infectious diseases, asthma and the occasional wound suffered at the hands of their guards.
As for their emotional state, they commonly describe themselves as feeling “stressed” with many of those same individuals saying they feel depressed, tired and in some cases suicidal. Indeed, the reports indicate that several of the detainees are on medication for depression, and in one instance a detainee is specifically described as being treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or “PTSD.” In other instances, the practice of self-mutilation is referred to in these reports. Indeed, the rate of self mutilation and/or suicide attempts is quite high, as documented by the DOD itself: 460 incidents of self harm in 2003 and 2004 (Source: Report by Reuters News Agency on January 25, 2005).
It’s also clear that the detainees live in a state of fear: fear of mistreatment by the guards, of rendition to their countries of origin in some cases, and even the fear that some detainees have been killed while at Gitmo. Several of them specifically asked their FBI interrogators if they knew anything about the report going around the prison that one of the prisoners had been executed by the guards.
Another common reaction documented in these reports is anger, and, in a few instances, rage leading to physical combativeness sufficient to require termination of the interview. In most cases, however, anger is mentioned as the reason for the detainee’s refusal to answer questions or otherwise cooperate. By the end of the period covered by these reports (Summer, 2003) this non-cooperation is becoming more and more of an issue. The reports frequently make mention of sarcastic and cynical remarks made by detainees.
The Interrogations: What the FBI was Attempting to Learn
The FBI’s focus, as participants in the CITF, was primarily on obtaining information that could be used to bring charges against individuals that were held in Gitmo, or elsewhere. The most commonly asked questions (from what we can tell or infer from the unredacted text of the reports) had to do with each detainee’s own actions while in Afghanistan. Interrogators are constantly going over with detainees the statements made at earlier interrogations and seeking explanation for any inconsistencies in their stories. It’s clear that the FBI had copies of reports from earlier military interrogations which were used to confront detainees when what they told the FBI differed from those prior interrogations. Detainees frequently made claims of torture and coerced confessions in prior military interrogations when asked to explain inconsistencies.
These “interviews” also emphasized obtaining information about Al Qaida’s activities, including plans for terrorist attacks in America, but as time went on this took a back seat to the FBI’s main purpose of criminal investigation. Indeed, one can surmise that the FBI did not believe many of the detainees had any useful information about Al Qaida’s plans, since in many cases there is no indication that they asked them about such matters. It was the criminal investigations of those already held at Gitmo which was the principal purpose of most of these interrogations. For this reason, many detainees were not only interrogated about their own actions, but were also asked to provide information about others. Quite a number of interviews refer to detainees being asked to identify other prisoners or individuals belonging to Al Qaida or the Taliban, and indicate they were shown pictures of suspected Al Qaida and Taliban members for this reason.
Another major focus of the FBI interrogations involved security threats to Gitmo itself coming from the detainees. Many detainees were asked about rumors of detainee plots to foment riots or participate in mass suicide attempts. Detainees were also questioned about coordinated mass hunger strikes and other attempts at resistance. As a result, there is a great deal of information about the detainees’ motivations and justifications for these activities. Indeed, this was another occasion where allegations of torture and other forms of abuse appear in the reports: as justification for the actions taken by detainees to organize a mass resistance to those holding them.