Justice Department Report Reveals Senior Government Officials Knew Early On Of Interrogation Abuse But Did Not Stop It

May 20, 2008 12:00 am

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First Government Report To Identify Rice As Receiving Interrogation Complaints

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NEW YORK – The results of an internal Justice Department investigation released today reveal that officials at the highest level of government — including the White House — received reports on the abuse of prisoners in U.S. military custody overseas as early as 2002. Congress called on the department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to conduct the investigation after documents made public through an American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request revealed FBI agents at Guantánamo had raised concerns about methods used by military interrogators. Today’s government report is the first to identify that then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice received complaints of torture.

“Today’s OIG report reveals that top government officials in the Defense Department, CIA and even as high as the White House turned a blind eye to torture and abuse and failed to act aggressively to end it,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “Moreover, the country’s top law enforcement agency — the FBI — did not take measures to enforce the law but only belatedly reported on the law’s violations. It’s troubling that the government seems to have been more concerned with obscuring the facts than with enforcing the law and stopping the torture and abuse of detainees. Had the government taken action in 2002, perhaps the disgrace of Abu Ghraib and other abuses could have been avoided.”

According to the OIG report, which was initiated in December 2004 and took three and a half years to complete, senior administration officials failed to stop torture and abuse even after being made aware of it.

The report reveals the White House had knowledge of reports that originated with individual FBI agents, including concerns about the unlawful nature of interrogation tactics. Some of these discussions involved effectiveness, while others involved legality, the effect of abuse on the admissibility of evidence, and damage to the rule of law.

“Attorney General Michael Mukasey recently testified to Congress that he cannot prosecute anyone for anything approved by Justice Department opinions that authorized detainee abuse. But no one gets immunity for acts they should have known were illegal,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The filtering up of information from FBI agents to high government officials makes claims of immunity even more incredulous.”

The report confirms that senior FBI officials knew as early as 2002 that other agencies including the CIA were using abusive interrogation methods. However, the FBI didn’t advise its agents to report incidents of abuse until 2004, after the publication of photographs revealing abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.

The report also reveals that the CIA hampered the OIG investigation by blocking an OIG interview with a detainee who was the subject of aggressive interrogation techniques including waterboarding. According to the report, the Defense Department had granted the OIG permission to interview several detainees including Zayn Abidin Muhammed Hussein Abu Zubaydah stating the interviews would not interfere with their attempts to obtain intelligence from the detainees. However, the CIA acting general counsel objected to the OIG team interviewing Zubaydah. The OIG was also denied access to classified information about CIA-controlled facilities, what occurred there, and what legal authorities governed their operations.

“We are deeply troubled by the CIA’s efforts to frustrate the Inspector General’s investigation by denying the inspector general access to critical information and a key prisoner,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The report only underscores the pressing need for an independent and comprehensive investigation of prisoner abuse. It’s unacceptable that, four years after the publication of the Abu Ghraib photographs, no senior official has been held accountable. Most of those who ought to have been held accountable have been nominated and confirmed to higher posts instead.”

“This new report should become exhibit A at the next congressional hearing on the Bush administration’s use of torture,” said Christopher Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel to the ACLU. “The House Judiciary Committee is in the middle of the first thorough congressional review of the development and implementation of the torture policies at the top levels of government. The questions are who did what and what crimes were committed. This Justice Department report helps answer both questions.”

In October 2003, the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union — along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace — filed a FOIA request for records concerning the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody abroad. To date, more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the FOIA request — including the Bush administration’s 2003 “torture memo” written by John Yoo when he was a deputy at the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The ACLU filed another FOIA request in April 2008 demanding the release of the OIG report after media reports that the investigation had been completed for months. Today’s report confirms that the Defense Department used its classification review to delay the release of the report.

The OIG report is available online at:

The documents received in the ACLU’s FOIA are available online at:

In addition, the documents relating to FBI involvement in abusive interrogation techniques are discussed on pages 10 through 20 of a recently published book by ACLU attorneys Jaffer and Amrit Singh, “Administration of Torture.” More information is available online at:

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