CIA Abuse Cases May Be Reopened

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The Justice Department is scheduled to release more than 1,000 pages of documents on torture Monday. And an internal report by department investigators recommends that the attorney general appoint a prosecutor to see whether laws were broken by interrogators accused of abusing detainees.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Justice Department today is releasing more than a thousand pages of documents on torture, plus an internal report by department investigators recommends that the attorney general appoint a prosecutor to see whether laws were broken by interrogators accused of abusing detainees. At the same time, the White House is expected to announce the creation of a special team of interrogators to oversee high-value detainees.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston joins us now live to talk about these developments. And Dina, what do you know about these torture memos?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, these are documents...

MONTAGNE: Documents, sorry about that.

TEMPLE-RASTON: This is a 5-year-old report from the inspector general and it came out, actually, two years ago. But it was so redacted that the pages were almost all black. So the ACLU basically asked a judge to order them to release more, and that's what we're going to see today. And what we know about the report so far is that it's pretty chilling. We know a prisoner was threatened with execution and a power drill. Apparently, there were shots fired in the interrogation room next to him, which led him to believe that another prisoner had been shot. And then as you mentioned, there are these other documents, too. There are Justice Department memos about authorizations for these harsh interrogations. We're expecting to see those today, too. So it's quite a document dump.

MONTAGNE: And are there people likely to be prosecuted for these offenses?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it looks more likely now that a prosecutor is going to be appointed. The CIA IG report apparently pushed Attorney General Eric Holder toward the conclusion that a prosecutor needs to take a look at these offenses. And you know, he's not the only one who feels this way. DOJ investigators have been - sorry, Department of Justice investigators have been looking into the lawyers who authorized these harsh interrogations. Their report's not coming out today, but a source familiar with its conclusion say they think a prosecutor is needed, too.

MONTAGNE: Now, we are expecting an announcement from the White House a little bit later today that they're creating a new interrogation unit, as I just mentioned. What more can you tell us about that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, President Obama assigned a task force to basically overhaul the way terrorists - suspects are interrogated. And they're putting the finishing touches on their recommendations. But among their suggestions, which the president has approved, is this creation of this team of elite interrogators. And they're going to call it the high-value detainee interrogation group. It's going to be overseen by the National Security Council, but it's going to be run by the FBI.

And that's kind of a big deal because the CIA used to be in charge of these kinds of intelligence-gathering interrogations. And they're going to base a lot of their interrogation techniques on the Army Field Manual. But that hasn't been updated in years. So the other - sort of big news to come out of this, is that they're going to be asked to put together the first-ever, systematic study of what really works in the interrogation room and what doesn't. Now up to now, right, there's been that big debate over whether or not torture works or doesn't - or harsh interrogation works or doesn't. And this may finally put that argument to rest.

MONTAGNE: Well, as many people would know, President Obama - when this whole area comes up as a subject, has said he wants to look forward, not back. What does this say about the attorney general's intentions?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think that this report today, that's going to be released — and it's over a thousand pages, are going to be released — is going to take a good portion of the politics out of this because it is so explosive. Before, it might have looked like it was just the Obama administration gunning for the Bush administration. But now, they have quite a bit of cover, including this Office of Responsibility report that's coming out, that says there are some things here that need some looking into.

MONTAGNE: Dina, thanks very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston.

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