Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US interrogations hindered by abuse scandal: officials


Confusion about the legal limits of interrogations has begun to slow government efforts to obtain information from suspected terrorists, US intelligence officials said on Sunday.

The doubts about whether interrogators can employ coercive methods, the officials said, could create problems at the start of a critical summer period when counterterrorism officials fear that al-Qaeda might attack the US.

Interrogators are uncertain what rules are in effect and are worried that the legal safeguards that they had believed were in place to protect them from internal sanctions or criminal liability may no longer exist, the officials said.

Some intelligence officials involved in the CIA's interrogation program have told colleagues that they are bitter because their superiors, in the months after the September 2001 attacks, had assured them that aggressive interrogation techniques were necessary and legal.

Other intelligence officials have expressed a sense of resignation, saying they had a feeling that, from the early days in the war on terror, aggressive steps taken in an effort to protect the country from another attack would lead to criticism and internal investigations.

The uncertainty follows the Bush administration's decision to review and revise the legal basis on which interrogations of high-level al-Qaeda detainees have been conducted. A Justice Department legal memo in August 2002 said the government had broad legal authority over detainees, approving tactics that stopped just short of a prisoner's death.

The memo said that interrogators could use extreme interrogation methods without violating international treaties or federal law, which bars inhumane treatment.

Senior administration legal advisers announced last week that the legal memo, signed by Jay Bybee, head of the Office of Legal Counsel, had been disavowed. In repudiating the memo, they said it created the false impression that the Bush administration condoned torture.

The CIA's interrogation program has been troubled. A CIA contractor has been indicted in North Carolina in the death of a detainee in Afghanistan. The Justice Department has been reviewing two other cases in Iraq in which CIA personnel had contact with detainees who died.

CIA personnel had become increasingly wary of the interrogation methods used in 2002 and last year against some detainees, including sleep and food deprivation and procedures in which detainees were told that they might be shot, drowned or hanged.

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the use of extreme measures had been halted while the government re-examined the law regarding how far interrogators could go in questioning terror suspects. A spokesman for the CIA would not discuss the report, but other officials said the status of the suspension was somewhat unclear and that the rules for interrogation were being reviewed but not necessarily rescinded.

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