Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Monday, 24 August 2009 17:47 UK

Obama backs interrogation revamp

Iraqi detainee in Baquba, 2005
Fuller details of prisoner abuse are to be published on Monday

US President Barack Obama has approved a new elite team to question key terror suspects, the White House has said.

The unit will be housed at the FBI headquarters in Washington and be overseen by the White House.

The announcement came hours before the publication of fuller details of the CIA's treatment of terrorism suspects.

Also on Monday US media said the justice department was to reopen about a dozen prisoner abuse cases that could lead to prosecution of CIA employees.

'Different elements'

The BBC's Daniel Sandford in Washington says there has been strong concern that interrogation has been carried out by different groups including the CIA, the military and the FBI.

Mr Obama wants to bring the elements together and have a properly regulated way of interrogating suspects, our correspondent says.

Rob Watson
BBC defence and security correspondent Rob Watson

The decision of the justice department's ethics division to reopen nearly a dozen alleged prisoner abuse cases will now hamper President Obama's efforts to draw a line under what happened in the early years of the war on terrorism.

At the very least the recommendation is likely to lead to a new investigation and possibly even to the prosecution of CIA agents and others involved in the alleged abuses.

The fear at the White House is that any such move could reignite the bitter ideological divisions within the US over how best to keep America safe. The White House will also no doubt be concerned about the effect on morale at the CIA.

Decisions on coercion and the way interrogation is carried out will now be made centrally, he says.

Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton confirmed the new interrogation team would bring "all the different elements under one group" but stressed that the CIA was not leaving the interrogation business altogether.

The new team will be called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group and will be composed of experts from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The group will be housed at the FBI, but will be overseen by the National Security Council, giving the White House direct oversight.

A US intelligence official told Associated Press news agency the CIA welcomed the move as it did not want involvement in long-term detentions.

The news came hours before fuller details of the CIA's treatment of terrorism suspects were to be made public.

A heavily censored version of a 2004 internal CIA report was released last year, but in an almost meaningless form because so much remained classified, our correspondent says.

A federal judge ordered more details to be released on Monday, after a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union (Aclu).


According to US media, the report by the inspector general details how a gun and an electric drill were brought into an interrogation session of suspected USS Cole bomber and alleged al-Qaeda commander Rahim al-Nashiri, in a bid to frighten him.

In another case, a gun was fired in another room to lead a detainee to think another suspect had been killed.

The US has banned harsh interrogation methods, including death threats.

Even under the Bush administration's controversial interpretation of the law, causing "severe mental pain" by the "threat of imminent death" was considered illegal.

Criminal inquiry

The call for the reopening of the prisoner abuse cases - mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan - was made by the US Department of Justice's ethics office, the New York Times reported.

[I will] stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given
Leon Panetta, CIA director

The cases account for about half of those that were referred to the justice department by the inspector general of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but which were later closed.

The recommendations to review some cases, which would reverse Bush administration policy, have been sent to US Attorney General Eric Holder.

He is set to announce soon whether he will appoint a prosecutor to investigate alleged abuse by CIA agents.

It is expected that he will go ahead with a new criminal inquiry.

Such a decision would pose problems for the CIA.

It would also have political ramifications given President Obama's desire to leave questions over the Bush administration's interrogation practices in the past, correspondents say.

CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an e-mail to employees on Monday that he would "stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given".

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