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CIA interrogators face criminal investigation

The US attorney general has appointed a special prosecutor to conduct a criminal investigation into CIA abuse of terrorist suspects following the September 11 attacks in 2001. A newly-released report described interrogators conducting mock executions and threatening to kill a suspect's children while another prisoner was told his mother would be sexually assaulted in front of him.

The US attorney general has appointed a special prosecutor to conduct a criminal investigation into CIA abuse of terrorist suspects following the September 11 attacks in 2001. A newly-released report described interrogators conducting mock executions and threatening to kill a suspect's children while another prisoner was told his mother would be sexually assaulted in front of him. John Durham, the federal prosecutor selected by Attorney General Eric Holder, is already investigating whether anyone broke the law in 2005 when CIA officials destroyed videotapes of interrogations of leading terrorist suspects. "Mr Durham will examine several cases which were referred to the Justice Department by the CIA's Inspector General and were subsequently investigated and dropped by the Justice Department under President Bush," The New York Times reported. "The cases were detailed in a 2004 report by the CIA inspector general that was released on Monday by the Justice Department. The report outline cases of abused allegedly committed by CIA personnel and contract employees, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan. "President Obama does not intend to voice his preference for whether anyone is prosecuted from prisoner abuse cases, a White House spokesman said Monday, and will allow Mr Holder to make the decision. " 'Well, as the president has said repeatedly, he thinks that we should be looking forward, not backward,' Bill Burton, the deputy White House press secretary, told reporters in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, where Mr Obama is vacationing. 'He does agree with the attorney general that anyone who conducted actions that had been sanctioned should not be prosecuted.' "The president appointed Mr Holder 'as a very independent attorney general,' Mr Burton said. He said the White House would unequivocally support the Justice Department's decision on any prosecutions and investigations into allegations of abuse." The Los Angeles Times said that the report on the CIA's interrogation programme written in 2004 but only made public on Monday, described how prisoners were choked to the point of passing out and threatened with harm to their immediate families. "The document includes fresh details that had not been previously disclosed. Among them are that top al Qa'eda prisoners were told that their family members faced harm if detainees didn't yield information. " 'We could get your mother in here,' a CIA interrogator told Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the alleged plotter behind the bombing of the naval destroyer Cole, according to the report. The threat was meant to prey on fears in Middle East circles that prisoners would be made to witness the sexual abuse of their immediate family members. "In another case, alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was told, 'We're going to kill your children,' the report said. "The document provides the most extensive examination to date of CIA conduct in a constellation of secret prisons that the agency set up in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. In some cases, the report praises how the prisons were run, and acknowledges that the programme provided intelligence that let to other captures and the disruption of planned attacks. "But the report also faults CIA personnel - from the bottom ranks to the top - for failures in oversight and breakdowns during interrogations. It also sounded a warning that what the agency was doing could be out of step with the nation's values and commitments. "The techniques being used 'are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights,' the report said, citing the anxieties of case officers convinced that eventually they would be held accountable. " 'One officer expressed concern that one day, agency officers will wind up on some 'wanted list' to appear before the World Court for war crimes stemming from activities' in the secret prison sites, the report said." In Salon, Alex Koppelman noted that the report's description of threats made to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, by telling him his children would be killed if he did not cooperate, have been previously reported. "That information wasn't new - it was in Ron Suskind's 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine. In that book, Suskind also reports that an unnamed 'CIA manager with knowledge of the incident' told him of Mohammed's response: 'He basically said, so, fine, they'll join Allah in a better place.' "That gets to a larger issue with that technique. Supporters of the CIA's programme, like blogger Michelle Malkin, may portray the debate as liberals simply being sympathetic to a brutal terrorist, but it's really a question of efficacy. The use of a threat like that is a gamble, and, as Suskind writes: The traditional models of debriefing, used by both FBI and CIA, involved the building of a relationship ... It's the need for some human contact, some basic comfort, rather than simply the bottomless human fear, which ultimately triumphs ... This method, which the FBI still recommends, was canceled out by what they did to KSM. Once you do something as horrific as threaten someone's children, and it doesn't work -- there's nowhere else to go. "There may have been more important revelations buried in the document. But the government took a very heavy hand to it when redacting for declassification, so for now, we can't know for sure." The Wall Street Journal said: "The report is likely to give more ammunition to critics of Bush-era counterterrorism programmes, and it may tarnish the US image in the eyes of allies and provide further material for detainee lawsuits against the US and for extremist propaganda. It may also unleash fresh fights over the CIA's 2005 destruction of 92 videotapes of interrogations. 'The pressure would be even greater [for a new investigation] if Holder had taken a look at those tapes,' said John Radsan, a former CIA counsel, who left the agency in 2004. "On Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats have been pounding each other over CIA-related matters since April. Democrats recently accused the CIA of breaking the law by withholding plans for a secret hit squad targeting al Qa'eda leaders." The American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed a lawsuit requiring the report's release, issued a statement in which Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project said: "It is encouraging that the Justice Department's ethics office recognises that prior decisions to cut off investigations of serious abuse cases were ill-advised, and that those who broke the law must be held accountable. It is critical, though, that the scope of any criminal investigation not be limited at the outset to exclude the investigation of senior officials who authorised torture or wrote the memos that were used to justify it. An investigation that begins and ends with so-called 'rogue' interrogators would be indefensible given the evidence of high-level involvement that is already in the public domain. Nor should any 'good faith' limitation be used as a shield for interrogators who knew or should have known that they were violating the law."

pwoodward@thenational.ae

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