The ‘War Crimes File’

fbiscales.jpgHartford Courant | It comes as a relief to know that FBI agents were aghast at harsh interrogation techniques used by American military and CIA operatives against terror suspects detained in U.S.-run detention centers.

According to a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, FBI agents at the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, began compiling a “war crimes file” in 2002 to document allegations of abuse against prisoners. The agents took their concerns to higher-ups in the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council, but apparently nothing was done. Eventually, the FBI agents were told to shut down the file.

Sadly, the Bush administration has presided over a dramatic decline in standards of acceptable treatment toward detainees swept up in its war on terror. It has redefined torture to allow techniques that Americans never would have condoned prior to 9/11. But there has been too little push-back from Congress.

Obviously a lot of bad guys (as well as innocent ones) are in detention facilities at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq. The top priority should be to use legal means to gather information from them. Nothing has so befouled the good name of this country than tactics that most clear-headed people think of as torture or something very close to it.

Our mistreatment of prisoners puts Americans at greater risk of torture and death if they are captured, as Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, has noted. The fact that Americans treat detainees harshly has been used by al-Qaida to recruit new members.

And torture tactics are not very effective, according to many interrogation experts. The more subtle psychological manipulation and rapport-building tools used by skilled interrogators are far more likely to yield useful information.

The brutal, degrading tactics sometimes used by American interrogators are chillingly on display in documentary films such as “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “Standard Operating Procedure.”

The next president and congressional leaders should create a bipartisan, independent body like the 9/11 Commission to investigate allegations of detainee abuse and recommend statutory fixes.