U.S. law enforcement agents working at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, concluded that controversial interrogation practices used there by the Defense Department produced intelligence information that was "suspect at best," an FBI agent told a superior in a memo in May last year.
But the Justice Department, which reviewed the memo for national security secrets before releasing it to a civil liberties group in December, redacted the FBI agent's conclusion.
The department, acting after the Defense Department expressed its own views on which portions of the letter should be redacted, also blacked out a separate assertion in the memo that military interrogation practices could undermine future military trials for terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay.
It also withheld a statement by the memo's author that Justice Department criminal division officials were so concerned about the military interrogation practices that they took their complaints to the office of the Pentagon's chief attorney, William J. Haynes II, whom President Bush has nominated to become a federal appellate judge.
The revelations in the memo, released yesterday by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) , generally amplify previously disclosed FBI concerns that military interrogators at the island prison were using coercive interrogation methods that could compromise any evidence of terrorist activities they obtained.
FBI agents and officials had complained about the shackling of detainees to the floor for periods exceeding 24 hours, without food and water; the draping of a detainee in an Israeli flag; and the use of growling dogs to scare detainees.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who as White House counsel participated in detailed discussions about the legality of aggressive military interrogation techniques, has twice publicly expressed skepticism about the reliability of these FBI accounts.
But the May 10, 2004, memo, written by an official whose name has not been disclosed, contains a highly detailed account of the efforts that FBI agents made to convince the Defense Department that its interrogation practices were wrongheaded.
They met, for example, with Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who took over the prison in October 2002, and another Army general to "explain our position (Law Enforcement techniques) vs. DOD," the author wrote in a previously disclosed portion of the memo. "Both agreed the Bureau has their way of doing business and DOD has their marching orders from" Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"Although the two techniques differed drastically, both Generals believed they had a job to accomplish," the author wrote in the memo, which was initially released to the American Civil Liberties Union at the insistence of a federal judge.
Levin, who had pushed the Justice Department to release a version of the memo that included the new disclosures, yesterday sharply criticized the department's initial handling of it. "As I suspected, the previously withheld information had nothing to do with protecting intelligence sources and methods, and everything to do with protecting the DOD from embarrassment," Levin said.
Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra declined to address that assertion. But he said "DOD did review this" memo before its initial release last year. He said he could not comment on whether the Defense Department had requested the redactions or explain why he could not comment.
Spokesman Bryan Whitman said it is Pentagon policy to request redactions "based solely on national security and privacy." He also noted that the department has previously acknowledged modifying some interrogation tactics at Guantanamo Bay in January 2003 after protests were made inside the government.
Jeffrey Fogel, legal director for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, an advocacy group that helped organize lawyers for 150 military detainees, said the newly disclosed passages could be used to persuade judges to "look behind" any military assertions during court trials that the suspects had confessed during questioning.
"An awful lot of cases have been built on information obtained through these kind of coercive interrogation techniques," Fogel said.