FBI Responds to Kampala Abuse Allegations Cited in Open Society Justice Initiative Report

In November 2012, the Open Society Justice Initiative issued the report, “Counterterrorism and Human Rights Abuses in Kenya and Uganda: The World Cup Bombings and Beyond.” Based on the content of that report, the Open Society Foundations requested from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the regulations and policies that it has in place when its agents are working abroad with foreign law enforcement or security forces that have poor human rights records. The Open Society Foundations also requested from the FBI what steps it took to investigate allegations of detainee abuse that the World Cup bombing suspects made against the FBI.

The Open Society Foundations met with FBI officials to explore these issues and in May the FBI provided the following response:

This response supplements comments made by the FBI to the Associated Press and Truth-Out.org in November and December 2012 respectively. Open Society’s recent publication, Counterterrorism and Human Rights Abuses in Kenya and Uganda: The World Cup Bombing and Beyond documents allegations by Ugandan detainees that FBI agents physically abused them. 

The FBI has found these claims to be without merit, because no evidence was identified by the FBI or any other independent entity to support them. The type of abuse alleged is wholly contrary to the FBI’s policy on interrogating suspects in foreign countries. The FBI’s policy is consistent with internationally recognized standards of conduct such as those set forth in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. 

Since at least the early 1980s, the FBI’s Legal Handbook for Special Agents has instructed that, when assisting with arrests in foreign countries, they may not participate in “any unauthorized or unlawful actions even when invited to do so by a cooperating foreign officer.” 

Over the years, the FBI has expanded upon this instruction, adopting a protocol for joint interrogations known as “remove and report,” which prohibits use of any technique that results in the abuse or mistreatment, to include verbal threats and inappropriate promises, of a prisoner or detainee. 

“Remove and Report” requires an agent to remove himself or herself from a situation in which he or she knows or suspects abuse has occurred as soon as possible, and report the known or suspected abuse up his or her management chain.   

Training on these procedures is provided regularly to FBI employees who are deploying overseas.

The Open Society Foundations welcomes having this information on the FBI’s policy for interrogating suspects in foreign countries, including the information concerning its “remove and report” protocol.

However, the FBI has not provided sufficient detail regarding its investigation of the allegations of detainee abuse by the FBI in Uganda or its basis for the conclusion that the allegations are without merit.

The Open Society Foundations will continue to monitor these issues closely in East Africa. The Open Society Foundations will also continue to encourage the FBI to 1) provide greater public information regarding its policies to prevent involvement in abuse of suspects abroad; 2) publicly disclose how these policies are being implemented in cooperation with domestic anti-terrorism units in the region; and 3) review its “remove and report” policy to ensure it adequately prevents the United States from contributing to, or legitimizing, human rights abuses carried out by the FBI’s foreign security partners.