FBI officials should have moved more quickly to sound alarms about abusive interrogation practices its agents witnessed in Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report by an agency watchdog released this morning.
The lengthy study by the Justice Department’s inspector general clears the FBI of engaging in coercive questioning of terrorism suspects, concluding that “the vast majority of FBI agents deployed in the military zones” adhered to bureau policies and balked at more aggressive tactics used by Defense Department and CIA employees and contractors.
Inspector General Glenn A. Fine faulted bureau leaders, however, for waiting until May 2004 — a month after abuses at the Guantanamo Bay military prison became public and nearly three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — to issue a policy making clear that FBI workers were obliged to report abuse or mistreatment of detainees even if it fell short of criminal violations. The FBI was “too slow to provide guidance,” Fine’s report said.
“The FBI could have provided clearer guidance earlier and pressed harder its concerns about detainee abuse by other agencies,” Fine said. “But 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.”
Interrogation practices — including the use of dogs, sleep deprivation and simulated drowning or waterboarding — repeatedly created friction between FBI agents and military leaders. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has stressed that the bureau prefers to build rapport with detainees as the most effective way of eliciting accurate information from them.
In congressional testimony last month, Mueller hinted that the FBI’s hands were tied in part by opinions from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which approved several of the coercive interrogation strategies.