Friday, February 24, 2006

NYT: Bill Keller declares a "play day" and paper misses Guantanamo coverage (again!)

F.B.I. agents repeatedly warned military interrogators at the United States prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that their aggressive methods were legally risky and likely to be ineffective, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation memorandums made public on Thursday.

The above is from the Associated Press' "Prison Interrogators Got F.B.I. Warnings" that the New York Times is carrying in three paragraph form this morning. When their own reporting is all surface, they really can't afford to edit, but they do it anyway. Here are the next two paragraphs "FBI warned military interrogators about their methods" via KARE-11 which carries six paragraphs of the story and not just three:

A senior officer at the prison for terror suspects also "blatantly misled" his superiors at the Pentagon into thinking that the FBI had endorsed the "aggressive and controversial interrogation plan" for one detainee, according to one of the 54 memos released by the American Civil Liberties Union. The memos had been previously released, but in more heavily censored form, as part of a lawsuit by the ACLU under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Though the AP's never credited in the Times, via KARE-11 we learn the reporter's name: Mark Sherman. Here's Knight Ridder's version ("Memos accuse interrogators of abuse") via South Carolina's The State:

Military interrogators posing as FBI agents at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, wrapped terrorism suspects in an Israeli flag and forced them to watch homosexual pornography under strobe lights during interrogation sessions that lasted as long as 18 hours, according to one of a batch of FBI memos released Thursday.
FBI agents working at the prison complained about the military's techniques in e-mails to their superiors from 2002 to 2004, 54 e-mails released by the American Civil Liberties Union showed.
[. . .]

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was in charge of the prison at the time, overrode the FBI agents' protests, according to the documents.

From the ACLU, "New Documents Provide Further Evidence That Senior Officials Approved Abuse of Prisoners at Guantánamo:"

The American Civil Liberties Union today released newly obtained documents showing that senior Defense Department officials approved aggressive interrogation techniques that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents deemed abusive, ineffective and unlawful.
"We now possess overwhelming evidence that political and military leaders endorsed interrogation methods that violate both domestic and international law," said Jameel Jaffer, an attorney with the ACLU. "It is entirely unacceptable that no senior official has been held accountable."
Included in today’s release is a memorandum prepared by FBI personnel on May 30, 2003, which supplies a detailed discussion of tensions between FBI and Defense Department personnel stationed at Guantánamo in late 2002. According to the memo, Defense Department interrogators were encouraged by their superiors to "use aggressive interrogation tactics" that FBI agents believed were "of questionable effectiveness and subject to uncertain interpretation based on law and regulation." The May 2003 memo specifically names Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who was then Commander of Joint Task Force-Guantánamo, as having favored interrogation methods that FBI agents believed "could easily result in the elicitation of unreliable and legally inadmissible information." The memo states that FBI personnel brought their concerns to the attention of senior Defense Department personnel but that their concerns were brushed aside.
Other documents released by the ACLU today provide more evidence that abusive interrogation methods used at Guantánamo were endorsed by senior officials. One FBI e-mail, dated May 5, 2004, states that "hooding prisoners, threats of violence, and techniques meant to humiliate detainees" were "approved at high levels w/in DoD." Another FBI e-mail states that certain techniques alleged to be abusive by some FBI agents were "approved by the Deputy Secretary of Defense."
Today's release comes only days after the release by the New Yorker magazine of a memorandum from Alberto Mora, General Counsel of the United States Navy, describing Mora's unsuccessful efforts in late 2002 and early 2003 to convince the Pentagon to renounce the abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo. Collectively, the Mora memorandum and the documents released by the ACLU today show conclusively that Pentagon officials at the highest levels authorized the abuse of prisoners and persisted in their endorsement of unlawful interrogation methods even after FBI and Navy personnel objected to those methods orally and in writing.
Still other documents released today by the ACLU provide FBI agents' descriptions of interrogations they witnessed at Guantánamo. One such document states: "Last evening I went to observe an interview of REDACTED with REDACTED. The adjoining room, observable from the monitoring booth, was occupied by 2 DHS investigators showing a detainee homosexual porn movies and using a strobe light in the room. We moved our interview to a different room. We've heard that DHS interrogators routinely identify themselves as FBI agents and then interrogate a detainee for 16-18 hours using tactics as described above and others (wrapping in Israeli flag, constant loud music, cranking the A/C down, etc.) The next time a real Agent tries to talk to that guy, you can imagine the result."
While some of the documents indicate that FBI personnel objected to Defense Department interrogation policies at Guantánamo, others raise serious questions about the FBI’s own policies -- and particularly about the agency's response to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. In one e-mail, dated Jan. 24, 2004, the FBI’s on scene commander in Baghdad discusses whether the FBI should investigate the abuse or whether it should leave the task to military investigators. The e-mail, which was sent to senior FBI officials at FBI headquarters, advises that the FBI should decline to investigate. "We need to maintain good will and relations with those operating the prison," the e-mail states. "Our involvement in the investigation of the alleged abuse might harm our liaison."
The FBI documents released today were previously released to the ACLU on December 15, 2004, with most of their contents redacted. The less-redacted versions released by the ACLU today were made available by the FBI after the ACLU challenged the FBI's redactions in court. The ACLU's challenge to other redactions in FBI documents is pending before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. A hearing has been scheduled for April 5.
"More than two years after we filed our Freedom of Information Act request, the FBI continues to withhold documents that the public clearly has a right to see," said Jaffer. "As we've been saying from the outset, the public has a right to know what the government's policies were and who put them in place."
In a related case, the ACLU yesterday filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the appeal of Qassim v. Bush which argues that two detainees who have been cleared of charges by the Guantánamo tribunal, whose continued military detention has been declared unlawful by a federal court and who cannot be repatriated, are legally entitled to be released under appropriate conditions of supervision.
Today’s documents come in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.
The FOIA lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Jaffer, Amrit Singh, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
To date, more than 90,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at
The friend-of-the-court brief in Qassim v. Bush is available online at
The documents released today are available online at

At the Washington Post, Josh White actually writes a story (don't they know the Times was blowing off the story by running a brief, abridged AP report?), "FBI Interrogators in Cuba Opposed Aggressive Tactics" which adds this:

The FBI documents also show that FBI officials declined to get involved in investigating abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in January 2004, days after officials learned there was photographic evidence of abuse and several months before it became public.
"First, the matter truly is outside our mission and would squander resources," wrote an FBI official on Jan. 22, 2004. "Second, we need to maintain good will and relations with those operating the prison. Our involvement in the investigation of the alleged abuse might harm our liaison."

Readers of the New York Times don't learn of that. They don't learn much of anything. Are their reporters (and "reporters") on strike? Did Bill Keller declare a "play day" for the staff? Or is this another thing that they feel can be "covered" better in an editorial than in reporting? It's pretty embarrassing and this is two days in a row for the paper of record.

Lastly, an update on a case we noted yesterday, in Texas another death in Afghanistan results in no sentencing. From Alicia A. Caldwell's "Soldier Acquitted in Afghan Prisoner Abuse" (Associated Press via The Washington Post):

A military jury deliberated for only 15 minutes Thursday before acquitting the last of 11 Army reservists from an Ohio unit who had been charged with abusing prisoners at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Alan J. Driver kissed a photo album with pictures of his children after the verdict was read. He was the fifth of 11 soldiers from the Cincinnati-based 377th MP Company to be cleared of abusing detainees.

[. . .]
The investigation was launched shortly after Habibullah and another man known as Dilawar died within days of each other in Bagram in December 2002. No one has been prosecuted for the detainees' deaths, though both cases were ruled homicides and the Army claims the men were beaten to death at the jail.
Only one soldier from Driver's unit was convicted by an Army jury, and he was spared jail time. Two pleaded guilty to assault and went to prison before being kicked out of the Army. Charges against three others were dropped in part because investigators in some pretrial hearings found no evidence of wrongdoing.

For context, also noted yesterday, Associated Press' "Abusive G.I.'s Not Pursued, Survey Finds:"

The longest sentence for any member of the American military linked to a torture-related death of a detainee in Iraq or Afghanistan has been five months, a human rights group reported Wednesday. In only 12 of 34 cases has anyone been punished for the confirmed or suspected killings, said the group, Human Rights First, which is based in New York and Washington.
Beyond those cases, in almost half of 98 known detainee deaths since 2002, the cause was never announced or was reported as undetermined."
In dozens of cases documented here, grossly inadequate reporting, investigation and follow-through have left no one at all responsible for homicides and other unexplained deaths," it said in the report, based on military court records, news reports and other sources.

The e-mail address for this site is