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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Justice probes detainee abuse charges

Carol Rosenberg Knight Ridder

MIAMI – The Justice Department has launched an investigation into complaints by FBI agents that U.S. military interrogators abused inmates at the Pentagon’s detention center for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It’s the first civilian probe of alleged military abuses of detainees.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine opened the investigation after the disclosure of e-mails in which FBI agents said they had witnessed military interrogators using harsh tactics when questioning prisoners at Guantanamo.

“We have a review looking at the involvement of the FBI in either observing or participating in the alleged abuse of detainees at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib,” a Justice Department official said Friday, on the condition of anonymity. The investigation was first reported in Friday’s editions of the New York Times.

Army Gen. Bantz Craddock of the Pentagon’s Southern Command in Miami has assigned a brigadier general from U.S. Army South headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, to look into the FBI reports, but Fine’s probe is the first by a civilian official.

In the e-mails, released in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, agents described prisoners being chained for as long as 24 hours and being left in their feces and urine in extremely hot or cold rooms.

Commanders at the detention center say that the FBI reports date back 18 to 24 months and that all current interrogation practices are humane.

The Justice Department official wouldn’t say when the investigation was begun or when it might be concluded. But he said it was already under way when Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., wrote the department Dec. 21 requesting an investigation.

Interrogation guidelines for the FBI, which is part of the Justice Department, and the military were different in the first two years after the United States began to send prisoners to Guantanamo from Afghanistan. But U.S. officials have been adamant that no abuse was allowed at the prison.

One issue confronting the Justice Department investigation is whether FBI agents took part in interrogations that used tactics not authorized for agents.

The inspector general’s office is an independent branch of the Department of Justice. That means that, even if White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales is confirmed as attorney general, the investigation could proceed without his interference.

Gonzales wrote memos on interrogation techniques that human rights advocates say encouraged the use of abusive techniques.

The Pentagon has completed eight investigations into various aspects of detention operations. Four more are under way.

On Friday, an ACLU lawyer welcomed the Justice Department probe. “Given that the abuses date back to at least 2002, it’s astounding that it’s taken so long for the investigations to commence,” ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said.