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Military probes allegations at Guantanamo

The U.S. military has opened an investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse at at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, outlined in recently released FBI documents, officials said Wednesday. But human rights groups called for an independent investigation.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.S. military command that runs the prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has opened an investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse outlined in recently released FBI documents, officials said Wednesday.

But human rights groups called Wednesday for an independent investigation into abuse at Guantanamo, where 550 detainees from nearly 40 countries are accused of links to Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime or the al-Qaida terrorist network.

“Although more transparency is always welcome, we’re way past the point where internal inquiries can be considered sufficient,” said Alistair Hodgett, a spokesman for London-based Amnesty International.

Documents published last month show that FBI agents sent to Guantanamo warned the government about abuse and mistreatment when the first prisoners arrived in 2002, more than a year before a scandal over mistreatment emerged at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. One letter, written by a senior Justice Department official and obtained by The Associated Press, suggested that the Defense Department failed to act on the FBI complaints.

The American Civil Liberties Union released e-mail messages last month obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in which the FBI accused military interrogators of posing as FBI agents and humiliating and abusing detainees. Techniques included inserting lit cigarettes in prisoners’ ears and shackling them into a fetal positions for up to 24 hours, forcing them to soil themselves.

The U.S. Southern Command in Miami assigned Army Brig. Gen. John T. Furlow to lead the investigation, which will begin this week, said Raul Duany, a spokesman for the command. A report on Furlow’s findings and recommendations is expected to be submitted the first week of February to the command’s top official, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock.

But Furlow has the option of requesting an extension for, Duany said. Once Craddock reviews the report, he will decide on the next steps to be taken, he said.

FBI allegations at center of probe
Furlow’s investigation will focus on the FBI documents that came to light last month, but it will not be limited to them if other allegations surface, Duany said. The general will interview military personnel, and he may speak to detainees as well, he said.

The ACLU released another batch of documents Wednesday, including an internal FBI e-mail indicating that suspected prisoner abuses reported by nine FBI employees who had been stationed at Guantanamo Bay were being forwarded to the Defense Department for investigation.

The e-mail said that 17 other employees witnessed what they considered to be mistreatment but that those incidents were determined by senior FBI officials to fall inside the Defense Department’s “approved interrogation techniques.” Most of the 478 FBI personnel who provided accounts of their Guantanamo Bay experiences reported no instances of prisoner abuse.

“These documents raise more questions than they answer,” said Jameel Jaffer, an attorney for the ACLU. “Why did the FBI narrow its investigation? Did the FBI ever conduct follow-up interviews?”

An spokesman for the FBI said the cases were referred to the Defense Department for appropriate action.

Additional documents previously released by the ACLU and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights — obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request — show that a special operations task force in Iraq sought to silence Defense Intelligence Agency personnel who may have observed abusive interrogations.

The military has acknowledged 10 cases of abuse since the detention mission began at Guantanamo, including an instance in which a female interrogator climbing onto a detainee’s lap and another in which a detainee’s knees were bruised from being forced to kneel repeatedly.

Those cases are not among three incidents detailed in July in an FBI letter to Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, the Army’s chief law enforcement officer investigating abuses at the U.S.-run prisons.

The memo obtained by the AP documents abuses that included a female interrogator’s grabbing a detainee’s genitals and bending back his thumbs, a prisoner’s being gagged with duct tape and an attack dog’s being used to intimidate a detainee, who later showed “extreme” psychological trauma.

Additional investigations into abuse and mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay, as well as other aspects of the detention mission, are also pending, defense officials say.