Monday, July 18, 2005

Military investigators did not substantiate major charges of prisoner abuse contained in one FBI agent’s e-mail that was read on the Senate floor by Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin as an example of U.S.-sanctioned torture at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The unnamed FBI agent wrote that she saw one al Qaeda suspect lying in his own excrement, that he had pulled out his own hair and that he had no food and water. The female agent also said he was shackled to the floor and subjected to loud rock music and to extreme temperatures.

Mr. Durbin, of Illinois and the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, read the e-mail June 14 in a speech attacking the Bush administration. He then likened Guantanamo interrogation techniques to the Nazis, Josef Stalin’s prisoner gulag, Pol Pot and the internment of Japanese during World War II. He later issued an apology on the Senate floor.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, rebuked Mr. Durbin in a Senate debate for reading, as fact, a raw FBI report, the charges in which had not yet been investigated.

That investigation was completed last week by Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, who commands the 12th Air Force, the air component of U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the 520-inmate prison at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo.

Gen. Schmidt wrote in his report, “Another FBI agent stated she witnessed a detainee short shackled and lying in his own excrement. The [investigation] was unable to find any documentation, testimony, or other evidence corroborating the third agent’s recollection to this allegation or her e-mail allegation that one of the detainees had pulled his hair out while short shackled.”

The Schmidt report also said, “We discovered no evidence to support the allegation that the detainees were denied food and water.”

In all, Gen. Schmidt said he found no evidence of torture, but did find cases of aggressive interrogations of reputed al Qaeda and Taliban members captured in Afghanistan.

Joe Shoemaker, Mr. Durbin’s spokesman, said Friday it is inaccurate to say the charges were disproved because investigators never talked to the FBI agent who wrote the e-mail or to some jail personnel who have since left active duty and declined to talk.

Mr. Durbin issued a statement that said, in part:

“Many aspects of the report made public today are troubling. This is yet another report that fails to examine the decision by administration officials related to torture policy. The report did not review the legality of abusive interrogation techniques that the secretary of defense explicitly approved. It did not address objections by the FBI … that these techniques are unconstitutional and ineffective. Instead, the investigation engaged in circular reasoning — if an interrogation technique was approved by the Department of Defense, this report found such a technique does not constitute abuse. In other words, the secretary of defense decides what the law is.”

Army Brig. Gen. John T. Furlow, a lead investigator, told Mr. Warner at a hearing last week that the FBI agent was on an unspecified classified “project” and was not available for an interview. Mr. Warner said she should have been tracked down.

“Yes, sir. It was considered, but it was not done,” Gen. Furlow answered. “But, in the context of those allegations, through review in the methodology, reviewing the logs, interviewing other FBI agents and DoD personnel, we were not able to substantiate those two allegations.”

Gen. Schmidt testified his team made “five or six attempts to get to her. She was not made available.”

Steve Lucas, a Southern Command spokesman, said the agent is being made available for an interview “very shortly.”

Investigators interviewed 30 FBI agents and more than 100 prison personnel.

Investigators confirmed two charges in the FBI e-mail: that inmates were shackled to the floor and were subjected to loud music. The report said two detainees were shackled briefly to protect prison guards, but that the practice was not authorized and was discontinued. One inmate was subjected to a hot and cold cell on “several occasions,” in 2002 and 2003.

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