Page last updated at 13:00 GMT, Saturday, 19 September 2009 14:00 UK

CIA heads urge end of abuse probe

Guantanamo Bay detainees in 2002
The inquiry into alleged prisoner abuse was announced in August

Seven former heads of the CIA have written to President Obama urging him to end the inquiry into allegations of abuse of suspects held by the agency.

The US Attorney General Eric Holder last month named a prosecutor to examine whether the CIA had gone beyond approved interrogation methods.

The letter to Mr Obama said the investigation would hamper intelligence operations.

The White House did not immediately respond.

The former CIA chiefs, who served Republican and Democratic Presidents, said the cases had already been investigated during the Bush administration and lawyers had declined to prosecute in all but one.

1973 James Schlesinger
1987-91 William Webster
1993-95 James Woolsey
1995-96 John Deutsch
1997-04 George Tenet
2004-05 Porter Goss
2006-09 Michael Hayden

"This approach will seriously damage the willingness of intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country," the letter read.

"In our judgment, such risk-taking is vital to success in the long and difficult fight against terrorists who continue to threaten us."

President Obama has stated that he wants to look beyond the Bush administration, which human rights groups have accused of using torture to gain information from suspects in violation of US and international law.

'Duty to examine facts'

But President Obama has said the matter was in the hands of the Attorney General Eric Holder who decided in August to reopen the cases.

The attorney general's spokesman Mark Miller said Mr Holder did not believe his investigation would affect CIA employees' commitment to their work.

"The attorney general's decision to order a preliminary review into this matter was made in line with his duty to examine the facts and to follow the law.

Leon Panetta
The current CIA director Leon Panetta is also against the inquiry

"As he has made clear, the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees," Mr Miller said in a written statement.

The seven former CIA directors also warned that foreign governments could be hesitant to cooperate with the US if the inquiry continues.

"As a result of the zeal on the part of some to uncover every action taken in the post-9/11 period, many countries may decide that they can no longer safely share intelligence or co-operate with us on future counter-terrorist operations. They simply cannot rely on our promises of secrecy," the letter said.

The current CIA Director Leon Panetta was not a signatory to the letter, but he opposed Mr Holder's investigation.

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