White House Ignored Torture Warnings

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, May 21, 2008; 12:55 PM

Top White House officials waved off early warnings from the FBI that interrogation tactics being used on detainees might be illegal, according to a new report from the Justice Department's inspector general.

The report states that FBI personnel started notifying headquarters as early as 2002 that other government employees were using abusive tactics -- including sexual humiliation, prolonged hand-to-foot shackling and exposure to extreme temperatures -- on detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. Justice officials conveyed some of these concerns in at least one White House meeting in 2003, but the White House apparently ignored them. A year later, the revelation of similar abuses at Abu Ghraib became a source of everlasting shame for American citizens, a serious blow to the United States's moral authority, and a potent rallying cry for the nation's enemies.

That the White House ignored the FBI's red flags is not really surprising, considering that as of Spring 2002, top Bush aides including Vice President Cheney were reportedly micromanaging the torture of terrorist suspects from the White House basement. In other words, those aides -- depending in large part on secret and since-withdrawn memos from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for cover -- intentionally and specifically approved some of the tactics that alarmed the FBI.

But knowing that the nation's top law-enforcement officials put senior White House aides on notice that the interrogation tactics they had approved were potentially illegal adds a key element to the portrait of complicity in what could someday be prosecuted as violations of U.S. torture statutes or even war crimes.

The Coverage

Carrie Johnson and Josh White write in The Washington Post: "Complaints by FBI agents about abusive interrogation tactics at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other U.S. military sites reached the National Security Council but prompted no effort to curb questioning that the agents considered ineffective and possibly illegal, according to an internal audit released yesterday.

"Reports that Guantanamo detainees were being subjected to extreme temperatures, religious abuses and nude interrogation were conveyed at White House meetings of senior officials in 2003, yet these questionable tactics remained in use, a lengthy report by the Justice Department's inspector general concluded.

"In one instance, colleagues of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft reported that he personally aired concerns about Defense Department strategy toward a particular detainee with Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, while other Justice managers shared similar fears with the council's legal adviser in November 2003, the report said.

"Ashcroft declined to be interviewed by investigators, so it remains uncertain how aggressively he pressed the issue, according to the report. Other senior Justice officials told investigators that no changes were made in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay even after these and other complaints filtered up to the National Security Council."

Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane write in the New York Times: "In 2002, as evidence of prisoner mistreatment at Guant¿namo Bay began to mount, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at the base created a 'war crimes file' to document accusations against American military personnel, but were eventually ordered to close down the file, a Justice Department report revealed Tuesday. . . .

"The report says that the F.B.I. agents took their concerns to higher-ups, but that their concerns often fell on deaf ears: officials at senior levels at the F.B.I., the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council were all made aware of the F.B.I. agents' complaints, but little appears to have been done as a result.

"The report quotes passionate objections from F.B.I. officials who grew increasingly concerned about the reports of practices like intimidating inmates with snarling dogs, parading them in the nude before female soldiers, or 'short-shackling' them to the floor for many hours in extreme heat or cold.

"Such tactics, said one F.B.I. agent in an e-mail message to supervisors in November 2002, might violate American law banning torture."

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