"Borderline torture" and the FBI

The IG report on FBI interrogations is full of new details about a behind-the-scenes struggle over the use of harsh interrogation techniques for terror suspects. It’s an important document because it provides just enough new information to make key questions more pressing and urgent.

Inspector General Glenn Fine launched his investigation after internal FBI documents surfaced revealing that FBI agents in the field, beginning in late 2002, were complaining that military officials were improperly abusing detainees. The government released the documents in connection with a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

Fine opened an investigation into whether any FBI officials participated in such interrogations, and whether top FBI officials responded in a timely fashion to the complaints coming from the field. But his report provides some insight into broader questions that go to the very heart of the interrogation programs.

1. As I said yesterday, the report indicates high-level White House officials knew about concerns over harsh interrogations at GTMO, but did not intervene—even after the FBI and Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft expressed serious concerns about the military’s tactics.

This, of course, touches on one of the most significant and unknown questions about the administration’s interrogation policies: Did the President’s top advisers  object to any of the interrogation programs in the years after Sept. 11th? Or did the highest-level officials, up to and including the President, approve techniques that some call torture?

2. Another big unknown: How did the United States start down this path? Did the CIA agents in the field, for example, ask for permission to waterboard after their interrogations stalled? Or did White House officials order up the harsher techniques? Did it come from the top? Or did it start at the bottom?

On this question, as on the first, the IG report has some interesting and intriguing details that will lead to even more questions. As the report shows, there was unbelievable tension within and between the government agencies over interrogations. That was especially evident in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who was captured by the FBI and CIA in Pakistan and was considered a top al-Qaeda operative.

Zubaydah eventually was waterboarded—one of three operatives subjected to the harsh technique. But what’s unknown—and has been the subject of repeated contradictory press accounts—is why. Who made the call to do ratchet it up? The FBI says Zubaydah was providing valuable information with its traditional interview techniques. So who first told the CIA to step in and use the harsh techniques some call torture? Or did the CIA, believing the FBI was botching things, come up with idea?

The report gives us some new details about how the CIA stepped in—and why the FBI, concerned about techniques  one agent described as “brutal,” backed away. The narrative focuses on two FBI special agents, who are identified by the pseudonyms “Gibson” and “Thomas.”

“Gibson” and “Thomas” initially took the lead in interviewing Zubaydah CIA interrogators were not at the scene when Zubaydah arrived, the report says. “Gibson” used “relationship-building techniques” with Zubaydah and succeeded in getting Zubaydah to admit his identity.

Zubaydah, who had been seriously injured when he was captured, required hospitalization, and “Gibson” “assisted in giving him care, even to the point of cleaning him up after bowel movements,” the report says.

“Gibson” continued interviewing Zubaydah in the hospital, and Zubaydah identified aphotograph of Khalid Sheik Muhammad as "Muktar," the mastermind of the Sept. 11th attacks, the report says.

But within a few days, CIA agents took control of the interviews. “Gibson” said CIA interrogators insisted Zubaydah “was only providing ‘throw-away information’ and that they needed to diminish his capacity to resist. The CIA asked the two FBI agents to help with their interrogations.

FBI agent “Thomas” balked. Although he did not witness waterboarding, “Thomas” saw other techniques that he told the CIA were "borderline torture,” the report says. “Thomas” also said Zubaydah was responding to the FBI's rapport-based approach before the CIA assumed control over the interrogation, but became uncooperative after being subjected to the CIA's techniques.

Of course, the CIA has insisted it was the other way around---that their agents had to use the harsh techniques because the traditional interview methods weren’t working.

“Gibson” was not as troubled by the techniques. But “Thomas’s” complaints eventually prompted the FBI to pull the agents off the scene.

Their supervisor reported on the techniques to top officials in the Justice Department’s criminal division, who responded that DOJ had authorized them for the CIA.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...