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Editorial: Torture Whistle-Blowers

Guys in white hats

Turns out, FBI agents in real life can be the straight arrows you see in the movies and on TV.

When military and CIA interrogators at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere were roughing up terror suspects after 9/11, FBI agents were the ones who tried to blow the whistle on the use of torture tactics. It's just too bad they couldn't find any backup in the White House.

A government watchdog report issued last week credits dozens and dozens of agents with trying to do the right thing. Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine said the agents sounded the alarm over the harsh methods used to loosen detainees' tongues about terror plots.

But the agents' admirable efforts apparently didn't prompt even a "thanks for sharing" from the White House. Fine found that the abuse allegations were ignored.

From an administration that has fought every effort by Congress to rein in torture-style treatment of terror suspects, it certainly comes as no surprise that the FBI's complaints fell on deaf ears.

While President Bush and his top aides assert that Americans "do not torture," his administration has refused to renounce the very interrogation methods - including simulated drowning - that FBI agents viewed as possibly illegal torture.

The resulting damage to this nation's standing in the global community has been incalculable.

As for the effectiveness of the tactics, few interrogation experts believe that torture works - other than to get prisoners to say whatever they think might satisfy their tormentors, truthful or not.

Nor have those tactics helped bring terror suspects to justice with the evidence needed to convict in a court of law. Not a single trial has been held at Guantanamo where, just last week, there was the spectacle of an Afghan detainee being


from his cell to a pretrial hearing.

Indeed, several former Guantanamo prosecutors now say that the flawed military trials are plagued by cases that are tainted because prisoners were abused.

Should have listened to the FBI.

Fine's report makes a rare, detailed accounting of that abuse: prisoners hog-tied, subjected to extremes of hot and cold, deprived of sleep nearly around the clock, thumbs twisted, female interrogators taunting detainees sexually, detainees' heads wrapped in duct tape.

Such techniques were used on detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to Guantanamo.

While the White House and CIA dispute the findings, Fine's report represents a potential Exhibit A in the comprehensive review that Bush antiterror policies so richly deserve.

In the meantime, it's reassuring to know that FBI agents - and some top military lawyers - stood up for core American values when a national climate of fear led other authorities to chip away at those cherished principles.