From a classified report five months ago, one of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's closest advisers learned of allegations that a clandestine military task force in Iraq was beating detainees, ordering Defense Intelligence Agency debriefers out of the room during questioning, confiscating evidence of the abuse and intimidating the debriefers when they complained.
The June 25 report -- sent by the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency to Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone -- is among dozens of documents made public yesterday that allege brutal and sometimes illegal military interrogation methods employed against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In the documents, government witnesses describe the regular use of violence -- much of it inflicted on prisoners by a top-secret task force devoted to capturing "high-value targets" in Iraq -- more than seven months after a fact-finding mission reported to senior defense officials that the unit was beating prisoners.
There is no record, among the documents made public yesterday or previously, that makes clear whether the abuses -- separate and apart from the highly publicized incidents at Abu Ghraib -- have stopped or whether anyone has been held responsible for them.
The Bush administration, which continues to portray prisoner abuses as isolated events and the Pentagon's response as swift, fought vigorously to keep the new documents from public view. The American Civil Liberties Union released 43 of them after compelling the Bush administration to provide them -- many still heavily censored -- in a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.
The two-page "Info Memo" of the DIA director, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, is the most significant, because he is the highest-ranking official now known to have complained about prisoner mistreatment. His allegations -- both for the intensity of the violence described and the specificity of the evidence of attempted coverup -- are among the most serious levied to date. They are also notable because the agency he runs works closely in the field with the elite Special Operations unit about which he writes.
The Washington Post reported last week that a fact-finding mission for Army generals in December 2003 had warned that the same unit -- then called Task Force 121, and more recently renamed Task Force 6-26 -- was beating detainees and using a secret facility to hide its interrogations. The task force, which is still active in Iraq, is commanded by a two-star flag officer. It is made up primarily of soldiers from two Army "special mission units," whose existence is not officially acknowledged by the Pentagon. Several of its members, all of them Navy SEALS, are under criminal investigation for the deaths of two prisoners in their custody.
Other documents describe heated battles in which the FBI and some DIA intelligence officers objected to harsh interrogation methods in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. One FBI agent, reporting on May 10 to superiors about an earlier conversation with Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller and Maj. Gen. Michael B. Dunleavey at Guantanamo Bay, said the two men cited Rumsfeld as the source of their authority to use techniques that the FBI regarded as potentially illegal and "not effective or producing intel that was reliable." The author of that report, whose name is redacted, said "both agreed the Bureau has their way of dong[sic] business and DoD has their marching orders from the Sec Def."
Miller was commandant at Guantanamo until last spring and, at least four government officials have reported, brought the harsh methods in use there to Iraq last spring. The Associated Press reported that Miller left Iraq yesterday for a new assignment in Washington, with responsibility for Army housing and support operations.
Jacoby told Cambone that a supervisor in a secret military unit seized photographic evidence after a civilian DIA intelligence officer watched uniformed task force members "punch [the] prisoner in the face to the point the individual needed medical attention." That DIA officer, and another who worked with him, reported that prisoners taken in the field arrived at the unit's headquarters with "burn marks on their backs," "bruises" and other signs of violence. Jacoby wrote that officers of the elite military unit "threatened" the DIA civilians -- Jacoby did not elaborate -- and warned them not to discuss what they saw. The military officers "informed them that their emails were being screened" and "instructed them not to leave the compound . . . even to get a haircut."
Air Force Lt. Col. John A. Skinner, a Pentagon spokesman, said "there have been more than 50,000 detainees and only around 300 or so allegations of abuse," many of which "turn out to be unsubstantiated once investigated." He added that one "incident of abuse is one too many" and that the department is committed to a "transparent investigation" of all allegations. He declined to answer questions on any specific allegation or to say why the government tried to suppress the documents released yesterday.
The documents describe FBI agents as witnessing the harsh treatment of prisoners at military prisons in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay without making direct attempts to stop it. Some complained to their superiors, and others said they deliberately absented themselves from abusive interrogations. The documents provide no indication whether these protests provoked any intervention by agency officials in Washington.
One special agent, interviewed by FBI Inspection Division officials in May, said he knew as early as November 2003 that the Abu Ghraib prison population included "ghost detainees," a name given to Iraqis imprisoned without being registered according to the requirements of the Geneva Conventions.
Several agents who helped conduct interrogations at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 reported seeing naked or nearly naked prisoners in isolation cells; one said he saw a detainee, who was handcuffed to a railing with a nylon sack on his head and a shower curtain draped around him, being slapped by a soldier to keep him awake.
Another special agent said he had repeatedly observed detainees who had been stripped naked and placed in isolation at Abu Ghraib -- a practice the military now says is wrong -- but made no protest because it seemed no different from strip searches at prisons in the United States.
The agent, whose name was deleted from the FBI investigators' reports, said he was aware that sleep deprivation was used to compel prisoners to talk, but that he "was not aware if it was a permissible tactic or not." Defense Department officials, in interviews, have defended the practice. The State Department's annual accounting of human rights abuses by foreign governments has traditionally described sleep deprivation as a form of torture.
The documents can be viewed in full at www.aclu.org/torturefoia/released/.