Abuse concerns raised in CIA interrogations

Techniques authorized by agency, Justice Dept.

Crisis In Iraq


WASHINGTON - The CIA has used coercive interrogation methods against a select group of high-level al-Qaida leaders and operatives that have produced growing concerns inside the agency about abuses, according to current and former counterterrorism officials.

At least one agency employee has been disciplined for threatening a detainee with a gun during questioning, they said.

In the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a detainee who is believed to have helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks, CIA interrogators used graduated levels of force - including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.

These techniques were authorized by secret rules for the interrogation of high-level al-Qaida prisoners - none of them known to be housed in Iraq - that were endorsed by the Justice Department and the CIA. The rules were among the first adopted by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks for handling detainees and may have helped establish a new understanding throughout the government that officials would have greater freedom to deal harshly with detainees.

Defenders of the operation said the methods stopped short of torture, did not violate U.S. anti-torture statutes, and were necessary to fight a war against a nebulous enemy whose strength and intentions could only be gleaned by extracting information from often uncooperative detainees. Interrogators were trying to find out whether another attack was planned against the United States.

The methods employed by the CIA are so severe that senior FBI officials have directed their agents to stay out of many of the interviews of the high-level detainees, counterterrorism officials said.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush signed a series of directives authorizing the CIA to conduct a covert war against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. The directives empowered the CIA to kill or capture al-Qaida leaders, but it is not clear whether the White House approved the specific rules for the interrogations.

The White House and the CIA declined to comment.

There is now concern at the CIA that the congressional and criminal inquiries into abuses at Pentagon-run prisons and other detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan may lead to examinations of its handling of the al-Qaida detainees.

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