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Task force threatened personnel over Iraq abuse

U.S. special forces accused of abusing prisoners in Iraq threatened defense personnel who saw the mistreatment , according to government memos released Tuesday by the ACLU.
/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. special forces accused of abusing prisoners in Iraq threatened Defense Intelligence Agency personnel who saw the mistreatment and once confiscated photographs of a prisoner who had been punched in the face, according to U.S. government memos released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The special forces also monitored e-mail messages sent by defense personnel and ordered them “not to talk to anyone” in the United States about what they saw, said one memo written by the Defense Intelligence Agency chief, who complained to his bosses at the Pentagon about the harassment.

Prisoners arriving at a detention center in Baghdad had “burn marks on their backs,” as well as bruises, and some complained of kidney pain, according to the memo, dated June 25, 2004.

FBI agents also reported seeing detainees at Abu Ghraib subjected to sleep deprivation, humiliation and forced nudity between October and December 2003, when the most serious abuses allegedly took place in a scandal that remains under investigation.

Interdepartmental clashes
The release of the ACLU documents comes a day after The Associated Press reported that a senior FBI official wrote a letter to the Army’s top criminal investigator complaining about “highly aggressive” interrogation techniques at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay dating back to 2002, more than a year before the scandal broke at the Iraqi prison.

The memos reveal behind-the-scenes tensions between the FBI and U.S. military and intelligence task forces running prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo and in Iraq as the Bush administration sought better intelligence to fight terrorists and the deadly Iraq insurgency.

“These documents tell a damning story of sanctioned government abuse — a story that the government has tried to hide and may well come back to haunt our own troops captured in Iraq,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU.

The documents were released only after a federal court ordered the Defense Department and other government agencies to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace.

A spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., which directs special military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, would not comment on specific allegations.

“We take all issues of detainee abuse very seriously, and where there is the potential that these abuses could have taken place, we investigate them,” said the spokesman, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nick Balice.

Compromised intelligence
Joe Navarro, a retired FBI agent who teaches interrogation techniques to the military and is familiar with interrogations at Guantanamo, said using threats during interrogations stood only to taint information gleaned from the sessions.

“The only thing that torture guarantees is pain,” Navarro told the AP on Tuesday. “It never guarantees the truth.”

Many memos refer to Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, whose mission as head of the Guantanamo prison from October 2002 was to improve the intelligence gleaned from terrorism suspects. In August 2003, Miller was sent to Iraq to make recommendations on interrogation techniques to get more information out of prisoners. He was posted to Abu Ghraib in March.

An FBI e-mail released by the ACLU said Miller “continued to support interrogation strategies [the FBI] not only advised against, but questioned in terms of effectiveness.”

Miller left Iraq on Tuesday for a new assignment in Washington, with responsibility for Army housing and other support operations, and could not be reached for comment.

According to the memo from the DIA chief, Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, a special forces task force in Iraq threatened defense personnel who complained about abuses. Some had their car keys confiscated and were ordered not to leave the base “even to get a haircut.”

Balice refused to describe the task force, which could include Army Rangers, Delta Force, Navy SEALs and other special forces soldiers working with CIA operatives.

Another June 25 memo describes how a task force officer punched a prisoner in the face “to the point he needed medical attention,” failed to record the medical treatment and confiscated photos of the injuries. The date of the incident was not clear, because the memo — like others released by the ACLU — had been heavily redacted to remove dates and names.

Interrogations called ineffective
An e-mail to Thomas Harrington, an FBI counterterrorism expert who led a team of investigators to Guantanamo, records “somewhat heated” conversations in which defense officials admitted that harsh interrogations did not yield any information not obtained by the FBI.

Another December 2003 e-mail notes the FBI’s Military Liaison and Detainee Unit, which “had a longstanding and documented position against use of some of DoD’s interrogation practices,” requested certain information “be documented to protect the FBI.”

In the July 14 letter obtained by the AP, Harrington suggested that the Pentagon did not act on FBI complaints about four incidents at Guantanamo, including one in which a female interrogator grabbed a detainee’s genitals and bent back his thumbs, another in which most of a prisoner’s head was covered with duct tape and a third in which a dog was used to intimidate a detainee who later was thrown into isolation and showed signs of “extreme psychological trauma.”

The Harrington letter was addressed to Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, the Army’s chief law enforcement officer, who is investigating abuses at U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq and at Guantanamo. He said that FBI officials complained about the pattern of abusive techniques to top Defense Department attorneys in January 2003 and that it appeared that nothing was done.

The U.S. military says prisoners are treated according to the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit violence, torture and humiliating treatment. Still, at least 10 incidents of abuse have been substantiated at Guantanamo, all but one from 2003 or this year.

Many detainees at Guantanamo have been held without charge and without access to attorneys since the camp opened in January 2002. The United States has imprisoned about 550 men accused of links to Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime or al-Qaida; only four have been charged.