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Zuhail Abdo Al-Sharabi (ISN 569)

The material below has been lifted, verbatim, from Section IV, Chapter 11, of A Review of the FBI's Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq, released in May 2008 by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice.


In this Section we address two separate allegations of FBI mistreatment of Zuhail Abdo Al-Sharabi (#569) at GTMO. Al-Sharabi was a Yemeni detainee suspected of having a connection with early planning for the September 11 attacks. The first allegation of mistreatment arose when two FBI agents described an incident involving Al-Sharabi in their responses to the OIG survey. The agents stated that in late February 2003 FBI Special Agent Demeter told them that he had sprayed perfume on Al-Sharabi, doused him with water, and placed a pornographic magazine his cell in order to undermine his status among his cellmates.201 The second allegation was raised by Al-Sharabi himself, who stated during an FBI interview in April 2003 that he was being subjected to "psychological torture" as a result of being isolated from other detainees.202


A. OIG Investigation


1. Contemporaneous FBI Documents. We reviewed numerous interview summaries prepared from interviews of AI-Sharabi conducted by FBI agents from [REDACTED]. These summaries indicate that [REDACTED], AI-Sharabi was placed in an isolation cell for at least [REDACTED]. Although the FBI agents working with him during this period were not involved in the decision to isolate him, they repeatedly told him that he would remain in isolation until he decided to cooperate in providing information to the agents. According to an FBI interview summary for [REDACTED], Al-Sharabi "stated he would admit to anything at this point because he is being subjected to psychological torture" and that he "felt like he was going to catch a disease from the living conditions and die." Al-Sharabi continued to demand to be removed from isolation before he would talk to the interviewing agents. The summary stated that at the end of the interview, the FBI agents told Al-Sharabi that "he had better take a good look at their faces because these were the only human faces he would see until he decided to be fully cooperative."

The agents met with Al-Sharabi frequently over the subsequent weeks and repeatedly told him that he would only be removed from isolation if he began to cooperate in providing information. According to the interview summaries, the agents also repeatedly suggested that Al-Sharabi could not only be moved from isolation but could also win his freedom and return to Yemen if he spoke openly and provided full details regarding the subjects of the agents' inquiries. AI-Sharabi repeatedly complained that he could not talk because the "mental pressure and stress" from his isolation was not allowing him to think straight. On May 12, Al-Sharabi began providing detailed information which the FBI found to be credible. According to a summary for [REDACTED], however, Al-Sharabi remained in isolation and the FBI agents told him that if he did not provide the information requested, his case would be turned over to military investigators.

The FBI interview summaries do not contain any information relevant to the claims relating to the use of water, pornography, or perfume on AI-Sharabi.

2. Interview of AI-Sharabi. The OIG interviewed Al-Sharabi on February 25, 2007. AI-Sharabi stated that he recalled finding a picture of an immodestly dressed or naked woman in his cell at GTMO, which he tore up and threw into the toilet. He believed that the picture was planted by interrogators as a ploy to undermine him with other detainees. He stated that an interpreter approached him when he found the picture but that he told the interpreter "oh, you are playing a game, go away."

Al-Sharabi also said he recalled an instance in which interrogators made him put on a woman's coat that had perfume on it, and that when he took it off he smelled like the perfume. He thought this was an effort to humiliate him.

Al-Sharabi stated that he did not remember ever telling anyone that he was suffering from "psychological torture," although it is possible he said this. He stated that he spent [REDACTED] by himself in an isolation cell [REDACTED] because he would not cooperate during interrogations.

3. Interview of FBI Special Agent Demeter. In his OIG interview, Demeter said that he was assigned to GTMO full-time, with several brief breaks, from February 2002 until April 2003. He was designated as one of the two case agents for the entire GTMO case. Demeter said that, as a result, he had extensive contact with AlSharabi over a long period of time. He said that at some point, Al-Sharabi had taken a role in the cell block as a leading advocate against cooperating with the interviewers. Demeter stated that he and the other agents assisting him tried to devise ways to undermine Al-Sharabi's status among the other detainees on his cell block as a way to isolate him from others.

According to Demeter, one method that he and his team used was to interview Al-Sharabi in the evening hours during the time that the detainees on the cell block engaged in "chatter" and were likely to notice that Al-Sharabi was often being interviewed while at the same time he was telling the other detainees to resist.

Another method that Demeter said he used with Al-Sharabi was to secretly place a sexually suggestive men's magazine in his cell late at night so that other detainees would see it in the morning and would have a strong reaction to Al-Sharabi possessing the magazine. Demeter stated that the magazine was not pornographic - it was a magazine like "Maxim" or "FHM." As part of this method, Demeter said that he coordinated with an Arab linguist to chastise Al-Sharabi in front of his cell neighbors for bringing back the magazine from his interview, which was not permitted.

Demeter told the OIG that on one occasion, Al-Sharabi was not cooperating during the interview and started singing. Demeter stated that he and his team surreptitiously sprayed Al-Sharabi with perfume on his back, by pretending to cough or sneeze when spraying it on Al-Sharabi. Demeter said that the intent with the perfume was to create doubt about Al-Sharabi in the minds of his cell neighbors and to drive a wedge between him and his cell neighbors so that he would focus more on his relationship with his interviewers.

Demeter stated that the perfume and magazine techniques were completed in such a way as to prevent Al-Sharabi from knowing that Demeter or the other interviewers were behind either incident.

Demeter said that another method he and the team considered to drive a wedge between Al-Sharabi and his cell neighbors was to wet Al-Sharabi's hair to make it appear that he was receiving extra shower time during interviews. Demeter stated that he did not recall whether he and the team actually implemented this ploy because he did not recall dousing Al-Sharabi with water, but he did have a recollection of Al-Sharabi's hair being wet at some point. Demeter stated that in his view these techniques would be available for him to use as an FBI agent in the U.S. and that he would not be prohibited from using them. Demeter said that AI-Sharabi was the only detainee with whom he used these methods.

4. Interviews of Other Agents. The description that Demeter provided to the OIG regarding the techniques he used on AI-Sharabi was generally consistent with what other FBI agents told us Demeter had told them earlier. Two agents from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit told the OIG that in late February 2003 Demeter told them that he had used the following techniques with AI-Sharabi, who was not cooperating with the FBI: sprayed perfume on the detainee to make it seem like he had been with a woman, poured water on the detainee's hair to make it look like he had broken the shower strike, and placed pornography in his cell.203

One of the BAU agents said that Demeter seemed to be proud of his use of these techniques and appeared to be surprised when the two agents expressed astonishment and criticism of this approach. The BAU agent said that she told Demeter that he and the other agent who used these techniques should have no further contact with AI-Sharabi because they had "lost all credibility" with him.

One BAU agent characterized Demeter's conduct with AI-Sharabi as non-criminal harassment and "nonsense," but she said she did not consider it serious enough to report to the FBI chain of command on GTMO. The other BAU agent said that she later told her supervisor in the United States about the incident. She said her supervisor was shocked, but that she did not know whether anything was done about it.

Demeter's supervisor at GTMO told the OIG he did not recall hearing about Demeter's use of these techniques. However, he said sometimes the interrogator "reaches the limit" and wants to place the detainee in an uncomfortable situation. He also stated that an appropriate strategy is to make it look to others that the detainee is cooperating, thereby potentially isolating him from his peers and making him more dependent on the interrogators. He said that in the United States, the FBI sometimes uses techniques of this kind.


B. OIG Analysis of the Allegations


1. Analysis of Allegations of "Psychological Torture". AI-Sharabi's claim that he was subjected to "psychological torture" was a reference to his isolation from other detainees. As detailed in Chapter Eight, Section II.F, numerous FBI agents reported observing the use of extended isolation as an interrogation technique at GTMO. Some FBI agents told us that they participated in using this technique, while others said they understood that the FBI should avoid being involved in this interrogation tactic. The FBI interview summaries for AI-Sharbi establish that FBI agents participated in a program to isolate AI-Sharbi from human contact in order to induce him to cooperate.

We believe that under FBI policies prohibiting coercive interview techniques, an FBI agent in the United States would not be permitted to order a prisoner into isolation or prevent him from being returned to the general prison population for a period as long as 2 months solely because the prisoner would not provide information to the agent. The Legal Handbook for Special Agents specifically identifies psychological pressure, isolation, and incommunicado interrogation as circumstances that will tend to undermine the legitimacy and voluntariness of a statement. LHBSA at 7-2.2.

However, it is clear that this practice was fairly widespread at GTMO. Moreover, at least with respect to this technique, many FBI agents at GTMO believed that they could participate in at least some coercive interview practices that might be prohibited in the United States. The FBI policy reiterating that "existing FBI policy with regard to the interrogation of prisoners" continued to apply in the military zones was not issued until May 19, 2004. Under these circumstances, and given that isolation did not involve the use of force or threats, we do not believe that the FBI agents who exploited the isolation of AI-Sharabi committed misconduct. However, we believe that this matter illustrates the inadequacy and lack of clarity in the guidance provided to FBI agents regarding permissible interrogation techniques in the military zones.204

It is not clear whether the lengthy isolation of AI-Sharabi was consistent with military rules. As previously noted, on April 16, 2003, Secretary Rumsfeld explicitly approved the use of isolation as an interrogation technique at GTMO upon a determination of "military necessity" and with prior notice to the Secretary of Defense. Church Report at 139-40. The April 16 DOD Policy cautions that "[t]his technique is not known to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days," and that some nations may view this technique as inconsistent with the Geneva Convention. AI-Sharabi was isolated for much longer than 30 days. We do not know whether the requisite finding of military necessity was made or whether prior notice was provided to the Secretary of Defense.

We also believe that by telling AI-Sharabi that he could earn his release and be returned to Yemen if he cooperated, the FBI agents made promises to AI-Sharabi that they would not have been permitted to make in the United States. FBI Policy prohibits agents from attempting "to obtain a statement by force, threats, or promises." LHBSA 7-2.1. FBI training materials indicate that an explicit promise of leniency usually renders a confession involuntary. Again, we believe that this tactic was the product of an understanding that the rules for interrogating suspected terrorists at GTMO (especially a detainee suspected of involvement in the September 11 conspiracy) were different. The FBI's rule against such promises stems from considerations of legal voluntariness applicable to criminal prosecution in U.S. courts. The agents understood they were collecting intelligence and not necessarily or exclusively preparing for conventional criminal prosecutions. However, this illustrates again the tension between FBI rules designed to serve its traditional law enforcement function and the changing role of the FBI in collecting intelligence for the prevention of terrorist attacks.

2. Analysis of Demeter's Conduct. The FBI policies on interviews do not prohibit specifically the techniques that Demeter used on AI-Sharabi, such as using a men's magazine or perfume in an effort to undermine AI-Sharbi's standing among the detainees. These techniques also did not involve the use of force, threats, or coercion. We recognize that in the United States, FBI agents might use ruses to drive a wedge between co-conspirators, or arrange that these prisoners be separated. However, in this case we believe that Demeter's techniques such as using a men's magazine and perfume, were ineffective and possibly counterproductive.

Notes

201. Demeter is a pseudonym.

202. The allegation of "psychological torture" was discovered in November 2004 by the military's Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) staff during a review of the FD-302 interview summaries for Al-Sharabi. A CITF staff memorandum dated November 16, 2004, stated that the claim of "psychological torture" constituted an allegation of "questionable techniques that may be considered criminal conduct," inconsistent with the Presidential Order dealing with humane treatment of detainees and contradictory to the Convention against Torture. The military informed us that there was no further military investigation of this allegation, however.

203. Demeter told the GIG that he did not recall discussing the use of these techniques on Al-Sharabi with the BAD agents.

204. Several agents understood that they could not participate in using isolation as an interrogation technique, including Demeter, who told us that as "sworn law enforcement officers" at GTMO, FBI agents were prohibited from recommending a detainee for isolation purely for intelligence gathering or information gathering purposes. Although Demeter had extensive involvement with Al-Sharabi, he was not one of the agents interrogating AI-Sharabi during the time the detainee was in isolation. Demeter said that Al-Sharabi was placed in isolation as a disciplinary matter because of a spitting incident, but he acknowledged that Al-Sharabi provided useful information during his isolation. In fact, the contemporaneous documents do not indicate that the spitting incident was the reason for Al-Sharabi's lengthy isolation. Rather, the documents make clear that the FBI agents who interviewed him told him he would never escape isolation unless he began to provide the information they wanted.

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