CIA interrogators fear prospect of punishment

Officers worry conduct with terror suspects could lead to charges

February 27, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - There is widening unease within the CIA over the possibility that career officers could be prosecuted or otherwise punished for their conduct during interrogations and detention of terrorism suspects, according to current and former government officials.

Until now, only one CIA employee, a contract worker from North Carolina, has been charged with a crime in connection with the treatment of prisoners, stemming from a death in Afghanistan in 2003. But the officials confirmed that the agency has asked the Justice Department to review at least one other case, from Iraq, to determine whether a CIA officer and interpreter should face prosecution.

In addition, the current and former government officials said the agency's inspector general is reviewing at least a half-dozen other cases, and perhaps many more, in what they described as an expanding circle of inquiries to determine whether CIA employees had been involved in any misconduct.

Previously, intelligence officials have acknowledged only that "several" cases were under review by the agency's inspector general. But one government official said, "There's a lot more out there than has generally been recognized, and people at the agency are worried."

Of particular concern, the officials said, is the possibility that CIA officers using interrogation techniques that the government ruled as permissible after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks might be punished, or even prosecuted, for their actions in the line of duty.

The details of some of the inquiries have been reported, but the government officials said other cases under review have never been publicly disclosed. Officials declined to provide details of all the cases under scrutiny. They would not say whether the reviews were limited to incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan, where CIA officers have been particularly active, or whether they might extend to cases from other countries, possibly including secret sites around the world where three dozen senior leaders of al-Qaida are being held by the agency.

The officials said that the concern within the ranks had been growing since the agency's removal of its station chief in Baghdad, Iraq, in December 2003 in part because of concerns about the deaths of two Iraqis who had been questioned by CIA employees.

The reason for the station chief's removal has not been previously disclosed. Former and current intelligence officials say the action occurred nearly four months before a wider pattern of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq became publicly known. The removal was ordered by senior officials at CIA headquarters in Washington within several weeks of their learning about the deaths of the Iraqi prisoners in separate incidents.

In response to the reviews, the CIA has made a number of significant changes to its rules on interrogation and detention as a new safeguard against problems, the officials said.

Asked about the inspector general's reviews, an intelligence official described them as a robust effort on the part of the CIA to ensure that its conduct had been proper. "The inspector general is working collaboratively with counterparts in the military services in all investigations," the official said.

The agency has referred some cases to the Justice Department for a review of possible criminal charges under the federal torture law, which forbids extreme interrogation tactics, and under civil rights laws more commonly used in police brutality prosecutions. Justice Department officials said that prosecutors working in a special unit in Alexandria, Va., were conducting criminal inquiries into the possible mistreatment of detainees by nonmilitary personnel, but they would not discuss which cases were being reviewed or whether they would charge anyone with crimes.

Justice Department officials would say only that several cases involving civilian employees of the government had been referred to the department. They would not discuss which cases were under scrutiny or what agencies had sought the department's review. But they said such reviews would seek to determine whether the facts in the cases warrant prosecution under several federal statutes, among them the civil rights laws and the federal torture law.

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