Use of Torture caused friction with FBI agents who warned, “it’s illegal”

A Justice Department Inspector General Report (2008; revised when parts were declassified 2009) provides details of alleged abuse of detainees in the military zones, including military misconduct observed by FBI agents at Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq between 2001 and 2004. One thousand FBI agents were interviewed. The Report states that DoJ Inspector General was unable to obtain highly classified information about CIA-controlled facilities.

“Our report found that after FBI agents in GTMO and other military zones were confronted with interrogators from other agencies who used more aggressive interrogation techniques than the techniques that the FBI had successfully employed for many years, the FBI decided that it would not participate in joint interrogations of detainees with other agencies in which techniques not allowed by the FBI were used.”

“FBI agents continued to witness interrogation techniques by other agencies that caused them concern. Some of these concerns were reported to their supervisors, which sometimes resulted in friction between FBI and the military over the use of these interrogation techniques on detainees. Some FBI agents’ concerns were resolved directly by the agents working with their military counterparts, while other concerns were never reported. Ultimately, however, the DOD made the decisions regarding which interrogation techniques could be used on the detainees in military zones. In our report, we describe the types of techniques that FBI employees reported to their supervisors.”

“while our report concluded that the FBI could have provided clearer guidance earlier, and while the FBI and DOJ could have pressed harder for resolution of FBI concerns about detainee treatment, we believe the FBI should be credited for its conduct and professionalism in detainee interrogations in the military zones and in generally avoiding participation in detainee abuse.”

The DoJ Inspector General Report  indicates that FBI agents were deeply repulsed by the brutality and they were concerned that these illegal activities would eventually be brought to light and investigated: “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all this…” These concerns led FBI Director, Robert Mueller to recall the FBI agents from the scene.  Jane Mayer reported that several former FBI officials told her they had used only non-coercive “rapport-based” techniques. One former FBI agent indicated that he opposed coercion on practical grounds:

“I don’t believe these things make successful strategies—sensory deprivation and such…There’s a big lack of knowledge about the mind-set of extremists. Doing these things just makes them more determined to hate us. And eventually they are going to be released. When they are, they’re going to talk and exaggerate what happened to them. They’re going to become heroes. So then we’ll have more extremist networks and more suicide bombers.”

FBI agent indicated: “there is a moral imperative to avoid coercive interrogations…We can’t go down to the level of our enemies. If we do, it’s going to come back at us later on.” (Mayer. New Yorker, 2005)

“several FBI agents raised concerns with the DOD (Defense Department) and FBI Headquarters about: (1) the legality and effectiveness of DOD techniques; (2) the impact of these techniques on the future prosecution of detainees in court or before military commissions; and (3) the potential problems that public exposure of these techniques would create for the FBI as an agency and FBI agents individually.”

“Concerns about the efficacy of DOD interrogation techniques also reached then Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Michael Chertoff, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.” (DoJ Inspector General Report)

However, the advice of law enforcement specialists was disregarded, and interrogations slipped from unprofessional to brutal and illegal. Kurt Eichenwald writes that F.B.I. agents on the scene, witnessing this descent, discussed whether they would be obliged to arrest the interrogators rather than let them continue down this savage path.

After reading the minutes of a debate between the military and the CIA, about using harsher interrogation techniques like waterboarding, Mark Fallon, the head of the Criminal Investigative Task Force at Guantanamo, said “his revulsion deepened.” Fallon wrote to his team:

“It was all abhorrent. This looks like the kind of stuff that congressional hearings are made of. Someone needs to be considering how history will look back on this.” (Kurt Eichenwald. 500 Days: Secrets & Lies in the Terror Wars, 2012)

“The reversed sere tactics [  ] have come to shatter various American communities, putting law enforcement and intelligence gathering on a collision course, fostering dissent within the C.I.A., and sparking a war among psychologists over professional identity that has even led to a threat of physical violence at a normally staid A.P.A. meeting. The spread of the tactics—and the photographs of their wild misuse at Abu Ghraib—devastated America’s reputation in the Muslim world.”  (Eban. Rorschach and Awe, Vanity Fair, 2007)

“Ultimately, however, the U.S. cannot outrun its staggering descent into barbarity. The Senate report has blocked the exit ramp. We must live up to what has occurred.  (Katherine Eban. Psychologists Who Taught CIA Torture (and Charged $180 Million), Vanity Fair, 2014)

“The United States is now relearning an ancient lesson, dating back to the Roman Empire. Brutalizing an enemy only serves to brutalize the army ordered to do it. Torture corrodes the mind of the torturer.” James Risen Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War (2014)