WASHINGTON — The Justice Department's ethics office has recommended that Attorney General Eric Holder reopen and pursue several CIA prisoner-abuse cases, a government official said Monday, amid a report that President Barack Obama has approved creation of a special unit of interrogators reporting directly to the White House.
Subjecting prisoner abuse cases to possible prosecution would reverse the policy of the Bush administration, which had closed the cases. Such a move could expose CIA employees and agency contractors to criminal prosecution for the alleged mistreatment of terror suspects in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility was recently presented to Holder, the official, speaking on grounds of anonymity, told The Associated Press. The ethics recommendation comes as Justice is to disclose a 2004 report by the CIA's inspector general detailing prisoner-abuse allegations.
In another development, The Washington Post reported that Obama late last week signed off on setting up a special terrorism-era interrogation team that would be placed at the FBI but report directly to the White House-based National Security Council.
According to the Post, the special new unit would be named the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group and would be comprised of experts in this field from the law enforcement and intelligence community. Obama was said to have approved creation of the unit late last week. The Associated Press reported July 18 that such an endeavor was in the works. A government official said at the time that a special presidential task force on interrogation methods concluded the unit should be created, but was uncertain which agencies would have a role.
The unit's structure would depart significantly from such work under the Bush administration, when the CIA had the lead and sometimes exclusive role in questioning al-Qaida suspects. The task force had not at that juncture in early summer reached a conclusion as to which agency should lead the unit or where it should be based, said the official who spoke with The AP. The official asked not to be publicly identified because legal discussions are ongoing.
As for the prisoner-abuse cases, Holder is considering whether to appoint a special criminal prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's interrogation practices, a controversial move that would run counter to President Barack Obama's wishes to leave the issue in the past.
But Holder reportedly reacted with disgust when he first read accounts of prisoner abuse earlier this year in a classified version of the IG report.
The New York Times, which first reported the story, said there were a dozen such prisoner-abuse cases subject to be reopened. The official who spoke with The AP gave no specific number.
The Justice report is said to reveal how interrogators conducted mock executions and threatened at least one man with a gun and a power drill. Threatening a prisoner with death violates U.S. anti-torture laws.
A federal judge has ordered the IG report made public Monday, in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
A CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, told the Times that the recommendation to reopen the cases had not been sent to the agency.
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