Terror Suspect Alleges Torture
Detainee Says U.S. Sent Him to Egypt Before Guantanamo
Thursday, January 6, 2005; Page A01
Habib was taken to the Guantanamo Bay prison in May 2002.
Published: January 6, 2005
n late 2002, more than a year before a whistle-blower slipped military investigators the graphic photographs that would set off the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, an F.B.I. agent at the American detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, sent a colleague an e-mail message complaining about the military's "coercive tactics" with detainees, documents released yesterday show.
"You won't believe it!" the agent wrote.
Two years later, the frustration among F.B.I. agents had grown. Another agent sent a colleague an e-mail message saying he had seen reports that a general from Guantánamo had gone to Abu Ghraib to "Gitmo-ize" it. "If this refers to intell gathering as I suspect," he wrote, according to the documents, "it suggests he has continued to support interrogation strategies we not only advised against, but questioned in terms of effectiveness."
When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last spring, officials characterized the abuse as the aberrant acts of a small group of low-ranking reservists, limited to a few weeks in late 2003. But thousands of pages in military reports and documents released under the Freedom of Information Act to the American Civil Liberties Union in the past few months have demonstrated that the abuse involved multiple service branches in Afghanistan, Iraq and Cuba, beginning in 2002 and continuing after Congress and the military had begun investigating Abu Ghraib.
Yesterday, in response to some of the documents, the Pentagon said it would investigate F.B.I. reports that military interrogators in Guantánamo abused prisoners by beating them, grabbing their genitals and chaining them to the cold ground.
Questions on the handling of detainees will be central to Senate hearings today on the nomination of the White House counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, as attorney general and to the court-martial of the accused leader of the Abu Ghraib abuse, which begins Friday in Texas.
An article in today's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine says that military medical personnel violated the Geneva Conventions by helping design coercive interrogation techniques based on detainee medical information. Some doctors told the journal that the military had instructed them not to discuss the deaths that occurred in detention.
No one predicted the acts that showed up in snapshots from Abu Ghraib - naked detainees piled in a pyramid or leashed and crawling - but the documents showed many warnings of mistreatment, most explicitly from the F.B.I.
"Basically, it appears that the lawyer worked hard to write a legal justification for the type of interviews they (the Army) want to conduct here," one agent said in an e-mail message from Guantánamo in December 2002.
The Pentagon now says 137 military members have been disciplined or face courts-martial for abusing detainees. A separate federal investigation in Virginia is looking into possible abuses by civilians hired as interrogators. Several military investigations are still pending, including ones into the deaths of about a dozen detainees.
The charges against the 137 service members, officials say, reflect a zero-tolerance attitude toward abuse - and a small percentage of the 167,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Our policy is clear," said Lt. Col. John A. Skinner, a Pentagon spokesman. "It has always been the humane treatment of detainees."
Civil liberties groups complain that no high-level officers have been held accountable for abuse.
"When you see the same thing happening in three different places, you see abuses being committed with impunity, then it ceases to be the sole responsibility of the individual soldiers," Reed Brody, special counsel to Human Rights Watch, said. "At a certain point, it becomes so widespread that it makes it look like a policy."
Colonel Skinner said that while Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said he believes the abuse was limited, "the secretary has also been clear that we're going to have multiple lines of inquiry to really fully understand what took place, and to have the appropriate investigations to find out any wrongdoing that's occurred." Three of eight military reports on the abuse, he said, have yet to be concluded.
An Army officer, Brig. Gen. John T. Furlow, will lead the new investigation at Guantánamo.