Report Details Interrogation Techniques

Extreme tactics used on prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere.


A detainee walks in Camp 4 at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba.

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She sat close to the man, her hand sliding from his shoulder down to his groin. From time to time, she would rub lotion along the man's arm or lean in and whisper in his ear. The man hardly seemed pleased, however, and several times he turned his head and grimaced in pain.

This exchange between a female military interrogator and a male detainee at Guantánamo Bay prison struck an FBI agent observing from an outside booth as odd. Although he couldn't see every move, a marine guard who was with him knew the routine well: The interrogator was bending the detainee's thumbs back and grabbing his genitals.

"If you think that is bad, I have seen her having guys on the floor crying tears in the fetal position," the guard allegedly told the agent in late 2002.

The incident was among the most extreme that FBI agents say they witnessed during their time aiding in interrogations at the Guantánamo Bay prison. But it was hardly the only interrogation that caused the FBI concern over the tactics that other agencies took toward detainees, according to a recent report released by the Justice Department's inspector general.

Indeed, time after time, the report concludes that FBI agents saw or heard about numerous interrogation methods—from sleep deprivation to duct-taping detainees' mouths to scaring them with dogs—that plainly violated their own agency's code of conduct. Though agents often reported these incidents—whether they took place at Guantánamo, in Afghanistan, or in Iraq—up the chain of command, the FBI's concerns met with little initial change at the CIA or the Department of Defense, largely because many of these methods had been sanctioned by the Justice Department itself.

Yet the disagreements over interrogation methods, detailed in the 370-page report, offer a rare glimpse of how, particularly at Guantánamo Bay, cooperation between various agencies sometimes put federal agents at odds with one another over how to handle terrorism suspects captured since 2001.

FBI policy prohibited the use of threats or coercion, almost uniformly favoring more rapport-building methods, but military and CIA policy in the years immediately following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, did not bar such tactics.

For instance, after the FBI agent witnessed the woman interrogating the detainee in late 2002, the agent reported his concern about the method to the FBI's commander stationed at Guantánamo Bay prison during those months in late 2002. The complaints made their way up to headquarters, but the agent didn't believe the base commanders had a problem with the conduct. Indeed, when the agent mentioned the incident to the general, the general's response, he said, was "Thank you, gentlemen, but my boys know what they're doing."

(A later military report found that the interrogator's mild touching was not in line with the Field Manual requirements, but it did not address the agent's allegation of bending the thumbs.)

There is also the case of Yussef Mohammed Mubarak al-Shihri, a Saudi held at Guantánamo Bay. One FBI agent told the report's investigators that he had begun building a rapport with al-Shihri over three interviews in spring 2003. But when the agent showed up the fourth time, al-Shihri began to withdraw. The detainee told him that "the mean ladies" had come to his cell in the middle of the night and interrogated him for hours. He claimed that he was then forced to listen to the "meow mix" jingle for cat food for hours and had a women's dress "draped" on him. The agent said he confronted a female military intelligence interrogator who admitted to "poaching" his detainee, but there was little more the agent could do. Following the incident, al-Shihri became uncooperative, and the agent said he never bothered to tell his superiors about the military interrogator's actions.

Though the inspector general's report lauded FBI agents for refraining from interrogations involving tactics barred by the agency's policy, it said management was too slow to issue clear guidelines on how to handle such incidents. By 2004, the FBI had firmed up its policy, requiring agents to report any incidents they witnessed that went against policy. The Defense Department also revised its rules of interrogation numerous times.