Lengthy Pentagon review delays report on terrorism interrogations

McClatchy NewspapersApril 10, 2008 

WASHINGTON — The release of a report on the FBI's role in the interrogations of prisoners in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq has been delayed for months because the Pentagon is reviewing how much of it should remain classified, according to the Justice Department's watchdog.

Glenn Fine, the Justice Department's inspector general, told McClatchy that his office has pressed the Defense Department to finish its review, but officials there haven't completed the process "in a timely fashion."

"Why that happened, I don't know," Fine said in an interview this week.

"It's been slower than we would like, and it's taken a long time. We provided our report to them months ago, and we are pushing hard to conclude this process."

Fine is investigating whether FBI employees participated in detainee abuse, whether they witnessed or reported incidents of abuse, and how such reports were handled by the bureau.

Fine launched his investigation into the FBI's role in the interrogations in early 2005 amid disclosures that FBI agents had witnessed and complained about harsh interrogation practices of detainees, including seeing Guantanamo Bay detainees who had defecated and urinated on themselves and who had been chained on the floor for more than 24 hours without food or water in more than 100 degree temperatures.

Government agencies that provide information during inspector generals' investigations are routinely asked to review drafts of reports for accuracy and to determine what information in the reports should remain classified.

Fine said the Pentagon now appears to be moving on his request.

"My sense is they are working hard on it now, and I believe we're going to reach a resolution one way or another in the not-too-distant future," he said.

The Defense Department didn't immediately respond to questions about the delay.

Fine's comments are a rare critique of a government agency's handling of one of his inquiries. His office has conducted a series of probes of the administration's anti-terrorism tactics, but since he took office, Fine has taken pains to appear impartial and never speaks publicly about the contents of a report before its release.

The delay comes as the Bush administration is under fire for its legal justifications of harsh interrogation practices, which critics say equated to an endorsement of torture prohibited by U.S. and international laws.

The allegations that FBI agents witnessed the abuse of prisoners were outlined in internal government documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit. The documents raised questions about whether the bureau's top officials did enough to investigate allegations of detainee abuse by military interrogators and whether military interrogators were impersonating FBI agents to avoid liability against allegations of torture.

Fine has no jurisdiction to investigate the actions of employees of the Defense Department, which has its own inspector general. Fine said his office hasn't encountered similar problems with the FBI.

"There are issues we are working through regarding the FBI's comments, but not to the same extent as the delay from the Department of Defense," he said.

Meanwhile, a federal judge assigned to the ACLU's lawsuit hasn't ruled on whether federal agencies should be compelled to release other internal documents, including still-undisclosed memos that authorized harsh interrogation techniques.

Since the ACLU requested the documents in October 2003, the FBI has released a "limited" number of documents, but the Pentagon has continued to resist, citing potential national security damage, said Amrit Singh, an ACLU staff attorney.

"It's outrageous," she said. "At every stage, they have fought tooth and nail to withhold information from the public to protect themselves from embarrassment. The government continues to withhold documents critical for informing the public on government policies on prisoner treatment."

Last week, the Justice Department released a 2003 memo written by then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo that gave the military interrogators wide latitude for interrogation tactics and concluded officials could not be prosecuted for techniques such as slapping. The Justice Department later retracted the memo.

ON THE WEB

To read internal documents that detailed the concerns raised by FBI agents about harsh interrogation practices, go to Release 122004 and Release 010505

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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