Silence Surrounds Revelations of Mueller’s Collaboration with CIA Torture Program

U.S. government photo of Robert Mueller

Over the past year, a series of revelations at the 9/11 Military Commissions (M.C.) proceedings at Guantanamo have exposed the fact the FBI worked far more closely with the CIA on the tortured confessions of “black site” detainees than we had heretofore known.

The revelations culminated in an admission via a new declassification in the M.C. trials that contrary to what was previously thought or asserted, the FBI under the leadership of then-director Robert Mueller had, according to a September 19, 2019 New York Times report, “assigned agents to the [CIA] black site program.”

Furthermore, the FBI “sent hundreds of questions into the secret prison network where the C.I.A. used torture to interrogate its prisoners, a collaboration that the bureau has never acknowledged.”

Real-time government censorship

According to reporter Carol Rosenberg, when FBI Special Agent (retired) James Fitzgerald testified in a recent military commissions session that he learned that another FBI agent had been “part of a C.I.A. team” interrogating alleged high-value detainee and current M.C. defendant Ammar al Baluchi, “the court security officer hit a censorship button and court audio was masked by white noise.”

This blatant attempt to cover-up in court revelations about the FBI’s coordination with the CIA on the torture of detainees has its analogue in the larger society, as reports, sparse as they are, of such FBI-CIA collaboration under the leadership of Robert Mueller, have been ignored and hence effectively suppressed.

Robert Mueller was the special counsel appointed to investigate President Donald Trump for alleged ties to Russia, in particular as regards supposed Russian attempts to control the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. At the time of writing this article, leading Democrats in the House of Representatives were deciding to what extent to use Mueller’s March 2019 report on his “Russiagate” investigation as part of the evidentiary basis of a Senate trial of impeachment charges against Trump.

Despite the fact that the revelations about FBI collaboration with the CIA black site torture program were published in the New York Times, there has been almost no other press coverage related to the FBI or former director Mueller’s links to CIA torture. It is the contention of this article that the suppression of this information has been largely for political purposes, and moreover constitutes a joint effort by both Republican and Democratic party politicians, the major news media (Rosenberg excepted), and bloggers and other commentators on political subjects.

A CIA-FBI “Memorandum of Understanding”

The one other major exception to the silence on this issue is a January 16, 2019 Truthout article by journalist Adam Hudson, “FBI-CIA Collaboration Reveals Blatant Illegitimacy of Guantánamo Trials.”

Hudson, who was writing prior to learning the FBI had literally been detailed to the black sites, relied on revelations that came out sporadically at the military commissions trials via discovery by defense attorneys. In particular, he emphasized that FBI agents were heavily controlled by CIA rules of procedure, and had in effect submitted to CIA censorship in their attempts during 2007 to interrogate the 9/11 defendants with so-called “clean teams.”

The FBI “clean teams” had been sent to Guantanamo to get testimony that would supposedly be untainted by the fact these defendants had been horrifically tortured while in CIA custody. In fact, as both Hudson and Rosenberg’s articles make clear, the testimony gathered by the FBI was heavily influenced by either CIA censorship and/or previous FBI collaboration with CIA black sites themselves.

Screenshot of portion of DoJ IG report on FBI involvement in detainee interrogations, May 2008

In his article, Adam Hudson refers to a 2003 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the CIA and FBI. This memo operationalized the use of FBI agents at CIA black sites (“sensitive CIA debriefing sites”). The very existence of this agreement was to be kept secret. In fact, until the very recent declassification regarding some of the details at the military commissions proceedings, as referenced in Carol Rosenberg’s article, almost nothing else was known about this agreement.

A Google search regarding this MOU turned up less than a dozen references, despite the fact this document was revealed in a major government report over ten years ago (see directly below). The secrecy continues, as further details were not allowed to be openly discussed at the public portion of the M.C. hearings, and were moved into secret, classified sessions.

The CIA-FBI MOU was briefly referenced in a 2008 Department of Justice Inspector General report on FBI involvement in detainee interrogations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

That report found that while Mueller directed in mid-2002 that FBI agents should not participate in CIA or DoD interrogations that contained “abuse,” actual directives telling what FBI agents should do in such circumstances were not distributed until two years later, in May 2004, after the Abu Ghraib photos of U.S. torture, and the resulting scandal, turned up the heat on the torture issue.

The myth of an FBI “clean of torture”

But the myth had been spread: the CIA were the bad guys, and the FBI was “clean” from allegations of abuse.

But Mueller’s FBI did not refer any indications of torture to DoJ for prosecution. Moreover, the DOJ IG report indicated that on a number of occasions that FBI personnel did participate in torture, often acting as the “good cop” in so-called “Mutt and Jeff” or “good cop — bad cop” interrogation scenarios.

The FBI’s record concerning torture and interrogations was further sullied by the UK grassroots advocacy group, Cage, which in April 2018 released a report, with accompanying documents, that alleged that FBI agent Ali Soufan, who had reportedly left the CIA’s Thailand black site over protest around CIA’s use of torture, had himself been involved with another FBI agent and a Department of Defense interrogator in a torture interrogation of Qatari citizen and U.S. resident, Ali al-Marri, at the U.S. Navy’s Charleston brig in March 2004.

For the record, Mr. Soufan has denied torture charges, and in an article at The Guardian the FBI said “they would not comment on the case but that ‘the FBI does not engage in torture and we maintain that rapport-building techniques are the most effective means of obtaining accurate information in an interrogation.’”

Not surprisingly, the charges against the FBI in the al-Marri case met near-universal silence in the U.S. press.

Whatever happened in the al-Marri case, it is indisputable that the FBI collaborated with the CIA in torture interrogations, and did this during the tenure of Robert Mueller. It seems likely there is no way Mueller was unaware of this cooperation. Did Congressional oversight figures know about this, and if so, have they assisted in covering up this information?

The question now is whether the U.S. political and press establishment will continue to ignore revelations about this criminal behavior.

Given the track record of the U.S. in relation to torture, there’s little hope of any accountability. But the narrative of FBI blamelessness, and the authority of Robert Mueller’s leadership of the FBI, needs to be corrected. Only an outcry by the public will facilitate this necessary corrective.

Psychologist (retired), blogger, author of "Cover-up at Guantanamo"

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