Analysis: Memos raise new abuse questions

By MICHAEL KIRKLAND, UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent  |  Dec. 7, 2004 at 7:15 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- New documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and released Tuesday are sure to raise hard new questions about how much top administration officials knew about alleged prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In response to pictures depicting alleged abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib, the White House released memos in June that show President George W. Bush decided shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that terror suspect detainees would be protected against torture by the Geneva Conventions.

The White House said the president acted despite advice from his own counsel's office that such protection was not legally required.

Formal court-martial charges have been brought against a handful of service members caught up in the Abu Ghraib scandal. But so far no higher-ups have been implicated, and the administration has said no senior officials were aware of the alleged abuse.

However, reports surfaced Tuesday that apparently reinforce the idea that the alleged abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib has been the topic of internal administration debate for years.

The FBI is not denying reports that a letter from Assistant Director Thomas Harrington, the bureau's counter-terrorism chief who led a law-enforcement delegation to Guantanamo in 2002, was sent to Defense Department officials describing the alleged abuse.

The Guantanamo abuse was similar to that alleged later at Abu Ghraib. Harrington called on Defense Department officials to correct the situation.

And Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union said documents it has obtained through a lawsuit show "that a special operations task force in Iraq sought to silence Defense Intelligence Agency personnel who observed abusive interrogations, and that the Department of Defense adopted questionable interrogation techniques at Guantanamo over FBI objections."

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

The documents, posted online at aclu.org/torturefoia, include a June 25, 2004, memo from Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, Defense Intelligence Agency chief. The memo, titled "alleged detainee abuse by TF 62-6," describes how DIA personnel "who complained about abuses were threatened, had their car keys confiscated and e-mails monitored, and were ordered 'not to talk to anyone in the U.S.' or leave the base 'even to get a haircut,'" the ACLU said.

The memo also describes how the task force's officers punched a prisoner in the face "to the point he needed medical attention," failed to record the medical treatment and confiscated DIA photos of the injuries, the ACLU said.

The documents also reveal "FBI emails showing a rift between the Department of Defense and the FBI on the use of harsh interrogation techniques on detainees," the ACLU said. "One email notes that (new Iraqi prisons commander) Maj. Gen. (Geoffrey) Miller 'continued to support interrogation strategies (the FBI) not only advised against, but questioned in terms of effectiveness,'" the ACLU said.

Another e-mail message to Harrington records "somewhat heated" conversations with Pentagon officials in which they admitted the Defense Department's harsh interrogation methods did not yield any information not obtained by the FBI, the ACLU said.

A December 2003 e-mail message said the FBI's Military Liaison and Detainee Unit, which "had a long standing and documented position against use of some of DOD's interrogation practices," had requested certain information "be documented to protect the FBI,'" the ACLU said.

The ACLU said the documents detail 15 interviews with FBI personnel who were at Abu Ghraib prison between October and December 2003, "some of whom observed nudity, sleep deprivation and humiliation of detainees."

Calls to the White House for comment on the documents were referred to the National Security Council, which did not return calls by the time this article was published, but a Pentagon spokeswoman did make a statement.

"Many of the documents provide by DOD and various government agencies to the ACLU are either part of previous inquiries or are informing inquiries yet to be completed," said Capt. Roxie Merritt. "U.S. policy condemns and prohibits torture. U.S. personnel are required to follow this policy and applicable law.

"We have had a policy of full disclosure. The attached data reflects that policy. There have been eight major reviews, investigations, inspections and assessments based on more than 950 interviews and 15,000 pages of information. Three more reports still remain to be completed. There have been more than 18 congressional hearings and 39-plus congressional staff briefings.

"We will not comment further on individual documents found on the ACLU Web site."

In a separate statement Tuesday, the ACLU called on the White House to release all documents related to alleged detainee abuse.

The immediate effect of the document release may be on the confirmation process in the Senate.

The president has nominated White House Counsel Al Gonzales to succeed outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft at the Justice Department.

Though Gonzales is expected to be confirmed easily, Senate Democrats have promised a thorough inquiry into White House counsel memos that critics said sought to place detainees outside the protection of the Geneva Conventions, a series of international agreements that, among other things, ban the torture of military prisoners.

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(With reporting by Pamela Hess at the Pentagon and Richard Tomkins at the White House.)

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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