This morning during a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, I questioned FBI Director Robert Mueller on his agency's response to claims - made by his own FBI agents - that the CIA was torturing prisoners. I wanted to find out why, if the FBI's own agents had alleged illegal actions were taking place, there was no investigation into the CIA's illegal and immoral practices.
Mueller's responses, which I would like you to read below, create new concerns and call for further investigation in the days ahead.
I believe Mr. Mueller owes more to Congress and the American people than the half-answers he gave in his testimony today.
I would urge you to contact the editors and news departments of your local media and ask them to look into the responses below. It is critical that this discussion takes place beyond emails and blogs – and is covered by the mainstream media.
In two weeks the Judiciary Committee will be holding hearings to investigate the fact that the highest levels of the Bush Administration sanctioned and ordered the torture of prisoners in United States custody. This is intolerable and we must vigorously oppose this policy that demeans our nation and offends our conscience.
Please read the below transcript of my exchange with Mr. Muller.
This is a deeply troubling interchange which should be alarming to all Americans.
Congressman Robert Wexler
Robert Wexler: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Director, in January of 2006, the New York Times reported that the NSA wireless wiretapping program had produced thousands of leads each month that the FBI had to track down, but that no Al-Qaeda networks were discovered. During a July 17, 2007 briefing, FBI deputy director John Pistole indicated that the FBI was not aware of any Al-Qaeda sleeper cells operating in the United States. In August of 2007 Congress passed the Protect America Act, giving the intelligence community greater access to electronic communications coming into and out of the United States. I have two questions in this regard.
RW: Has the FBI found any sleeper cells yet? One...
RW: Two. Has the NSA’s wireless wiretapping programs either before the Protect America Act or after led to the prosecution and conviction of any terrorists in the United States?
Robert Mueller: Well, as to your first question as to whether we have found affiliates or, as you would call them, cells of Al-Qaeda in the United States, yes we have. Again, I cannot get into it in public session, but I would say yes we have. With regard to the relationship of a particular case or individual to the terrorist surveillance program, again that is something that would have to be covered in a closed session.
RW: Alright, Mr. Director. An LA Times article from October, 2007 quotes one senior federal enforcement official as saying quote "the CIA determined they were going to torture people, and we made the decision not to be involved" end quote. The article goes on to say that some FBI officials went to you and that you quote "pulled many of the agents back from playing even a supporting role in the investigations to avoid exposing them to legal jeopardy" end quote.
RW: My question Mr. Director, I congratulate you for pulling the FBI agents back, but why did you not take more substantial steps to stop the interrogation techniques that your own FBI agents were telling you were illegal? Why did you not initiate criminal investigations when your agents told you the CIA and the Department of Defense were engaging in illegal interrogation techniques, and rather than simply pulling your agents out, shouldn’t you have directed them to prevent any illegal interrogations from taking place?
RM: I can go so far sir as to tell you that a protocol in the FBI is not to use coercion in any of our interrogations or our questioning and we have abided by our protocol.
RW: I appreciate that. What is the protocol say when the FBI knows that the CIA is engaging or the Department of Defense is engaging in an illegal technique? What does the protocol say in that circumstance?
RM: We would bring it up to appropriate authorities and determine whether the techniques were legal or illegal.
RW: Did you bring it up to appropriate authorities?
RM: All I can tell you is that we followed our own protocols.
RW: So you can’t tell us whether you brought it; when your own FBI agents came to you and said the CIA is doing something illegal which caused you to say don’t you get involved; you can’t tell us whether you then went to whatever authority?
RM: I’ll tell you we followed our own protocols.
RW: And what was the result?
RM: We followed our own protocols. We followed our protocols. We did not use coercion. We did not participate in any instance where coercion was used to my knowledge.
RW: Did the CIA use techniques that were illegal?
RM: I can’t comment on what has been done by another agency and under what authorities the other agency may have taken actions.
RW: Why can’t you comment on the actions of another agency?
RM: I leave that up to the other agency to answer questions with regard to the actions taken by that agency and the legal authorities that may apply to them.
RW: Are you the chief legal law enforcement agency in the United States?
RM: I am the Director of the FBI.
RW: And you do not have authority with respect to any other governmental agency in the United States? Is that what you’re saying?
RM: My authority is given to me to investigate. Yes we do.
RW: Did somebody take away that authority with respect to the CIA?
RM: Nobody has taken away the authority. I can tell you what our protocol was, and how we followed that protocol.
RW: Did anybody take away the authority with respect to the Department of Defense?
RM: I’m not certain what you mean.
RW: Your authority to investigate an illegal torture technique.
RM: There has to be a legal basis for us to investigate, and generally that legal basis is given to us by the Department of Justice. Any interpretations of the laws given to us by the Department of Justice....
(talking over each other)
RW: But apparently your own agents made a determination that the actions by the CIA and the Department of Defense were illegal, so much so that you authorized, ordered, your agents not to participate. But that’s it.
RM: I’ve told you what our protocol was, and I’ve indicated that we’ve adhered to our protocol throughout.
RW: My time is up. Thank you very much Mr. Director.