The US Department of Justice has opened a wide-ranging investigation into reports from the FBI about the military's use of coercive and abusive tactics against prisoners held in US custody at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq, officials announced on Thursday.
The investigation, initiated recently by the inspector-general at the Justice Department, will examine not only how reports of abuse witnessed by FBI agents at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq were handled, but also whether FBI agents themselves took part in any improper methods of interrogation at the prisons, which are run by the military.
Investigators "want to look at what happened to these complaints, and also did FBI agents participate in the abuse?" said a senior law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Were they more than simply witnesses?"
The Justice Department inquiry parallels a separate investigation by the military into the tactics used by its interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.
A raft of documents, released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) under the Freedom of Information Act, has revealed concerns by FBI agents stationed at the Guantanamo Bay prison who said in e-mail messages and memos that they had witnessed military interrogators using "coercive tactics," beating prisoners, and grabbing their genitals.
FBI personnel also told of detainees being chained for up to 24 hours and left on the cold floor to urinate and defecate on themselves.
In one case, an agent said, a detainee who was nearly unconscious had pulled out much of his hair during the night.
Some FBI personnel reported their deep concerns about the tactics to senior agency personnel, including the director, Robert Mueller.
One component of the inspector-general's inquiry will be to determine how those internal concerns were handled within the FBI and whether they were relayed to proper authorities in the military and elsewhere in the administration.
The documents obtained by the ACLU suggest the possibility that some FBI agents may have acquiesced in or ignored abusive military tactics at Guantanamo Bay at times, but they do not appear to offer evidence of specific abuses carried out by anyone at the FBI.
A senior official at the FBI said on Thursday that he was unaware that any complaints of abuse carried out by its agents at Guantanamo Bay had been submitted, but he pledged the bureau's full cooperation with the inspector-general's investigation.
"This is a healthy process," the official said of the review.
"We'll bend over backwards to help and do whatever needs to be done," he said.
In a letter to the Justice Department inspector-general on Dec. 21, after the first batches of documents from the ACLU became public, Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and five other lawmakers, all Democrats, made an "urgent request" for the office to investigate the reports of torture and to determine how presidential or military directives played into such tactics.
Glenn Fine, inspector-general at the Justice Department, responded on Jan. 4, saying that his office had already begun "examining the involvement of Federal Bureau of Investigation staff in either observing or participating in the alleged abuse of detainees at the Guantanamo facility and at Abu Ghraib," according to a copy of the letter provided by a member of Congress to the New York Times.