Assessment of CIA practices extends beyond Abu Ghraib

Legal basis for extreme interrogation tactics under government review


WASHINGTON - A CIA review prompted by the furor over abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq now includes scrutiny of the agency's interrogation and detention practices at military-run facilities and other sites across Iraq, government officials say.

The reassessment, which is more far-reaching than previously known, could have implications for the agency's conduct elsewhere, and could affect interrogations of high-level al-Qaida suspects like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed who are being held by the CIA in secret facilities around the world.

Former intelligence officials say that lawyers from the CIA and the Justice Department have been involved in intensive discussions in recent months to review the legal basis for some extreme tactics used at those secret centers, including "waterboarding," in which a detainee is strapped down, dunked under water and made to believe that he might be drowned.

"Policies and procedures on detention interrogation in Iraq and elsewhere have been the focus of intense oversight and scrutiny, and very close attention has been paid to making them lawful," a senior intelligence official said Friday.

Overall, the review by the intelligence agency, along with the investigations and corrective steps undertaken by the military, reflect how the government has retreated from an aggressive posture adopted in the months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on how far interrogators could go in questioning detainees.

Within the military in particular, some of the harsh procedures authorized until this spring were quickly suspended or abandoned after the extent of the abuses at Abu Ghraib surfaced in April. This week, reviews completed by two Pentagon panels have called for even clearer rules to be drafted for the military and intelligence agencies to require humane treatment during interrogation.

Among the questions raised by the Pentagon reviews is whether intelligence agencies should be required to heed the same guidelines for interrogation as the military, or whether they should be permitted more latitude. A report by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay about the abuses at Abu Ghraib said the conduct of CIA personnel at the prison was perceived by military officials there as more aggressive than that allowed by the military. The report said the CIA's conduct had a corrupting influence on military interrogators and contributed to a view among them that it was permissible to exceed strict guidelines for interrogations.

Mark Mansfield, a CIA spokesman, would say only that the agency's inspector general was conducting "several" reviews of the agency's conduct in Iraq. Mansfield said it had not yet been determined when the inquiries would be completed and whether their results would be made public.

The reviews have stirred concern in intelligence and military circles by officials who fear that decisions to forbid all coercive interrogation techniques could cost the United States valuable intelligence. A senior Army official, discussing new rules adopted by the military in a briefing for reporters on Wednesday, said the restrictions had damaged efforts to obtain information.

"Interrogators and detainees both know what the limits are," the official said. "They know that if the United States captures them, they will get a medical exam. They'll get their teeth fixed. They will get essentially a free physical and they will be released if they don't talk after a certain amount of time."

In interviews in recent days, some current and former intelligence officials have warned of the danger of showing too much deference to detainees who espouse extreme anti-American views.

"Let's keep in mind what the objective is - to get information that will save American lives," a senior intelligence official said. "And there is an absolute necessity to use effective interrogation to gain insights on plans to kill Americans."

Interrogations of suspected al-Qaida figures including Mohammed, regarded as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, have been described by the independent commission that investigated those attacks as having provided rich and important information about terrorist operations. Intelligence officials have not spelled out the kinds of interrogation tactics used on Mohammed, but they have expressed concern that he has successfully resisted their efforts to extract information.

After the abuses at Abu Ghraib were disclosed, the Justice Department abandoned some legal opinions written in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks that had been used as the basis for the broad latitude allowed interrogators in using extreme procedures against suspected al-Qaida detainees. In recent months, government lawyers said the legal opinions were too broad and were being rewritten to restrict the harshest interrogation measures.

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